Tierra Winston learned about career preparation and dabbled in resume writing in high school but it wasn’t until she attended the UNLV Pathways program that she enhanced her job interviewing skills.
“The program reminded me of the things we ignore like the importance of communication, of having a goal or a plan, of knowing what you want to do and having a pathway to what you want. It was an eye-opener about these areas we don’t pay attention to,” said Winston, 21.
Winston is a two-time participant in UNLV Pathways, one of the initiatives of the UNLV MGM Public Policy Institute. The program aims to empower young adults who have experienced the foster system, housing insecurity, or homelessness. Winston was part of the first cohort who met last summer. She adjusted her work schedule so she could participate in the last two weeks of the sessions this year.
Why come back? Because of the positive energy she felt, the people she met, to learn something new, and refine her skills, Winston said.
“I think what stuck with me the most was probably when we did a communication exercise. We all stood up and talked about different scenarios in situations. Those are like real life-situations that opened my eyes to what type of communicator I am and if I should improve,” she said. “It was more of an eye-opener, a sharpener of the things I should be more aware of and pay attention to.”
The latest cohort of five individuals, ranging in age from 16 to 24, met in February twice a week for two hours in the evenings at Greenspun Hall. Pathways offers workshops facilitated by Greenspun College of Urban Affairs faculty and staff, community volunteers, and MGM professionals. Interview preparation, conversational methods, social interactions, emotional health, and financial planning are among the subjects discussed.
The central theme of the program is that the young adults gain the confidence to design their lives with a supportive network guiding them, said Rob Ulmer, dean of the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs. The program is a response to community needs, he noted.
“This program is about creating equality of opportunity for everyone in our community," Ullmer said. "It enhances the resources we can offer for individual growth. And it shows there's room for everyone and everybody can succeed."
A Nevada Need
According to 2019 data from Clark County Social Services, there are 3,000 children in foster care from toddlers to teenagers. The Nevada Partnership For Homeless Youth cites 2019 data that found Clark County had the fourth largest number of unaccompanied homeless youth of any major metro area in the United States.
“This program is about these hurdles and challenges, and our college is uniquely situated and entrusted to develop these solutions for these youth," Ulmer said. "Not everyone comes from the same background or has an advocate in their corner.
“These young people, if given an opportunity, can grow, develop, and prosper and that will impact their future families and family tree.”
Power of Connections
What makes this population unique is that these are young people who may not have had stability in their lives nor long-lasting relationships and may grapple with trust issues, said Andrea Martinez, program manager for Pathways.
Gaining communication and resume-writing skills are just as important as building personal and professional relationships, she said. The program incorporates time for eating, mingling with staff, and having free-flowing conversations so that participants feel comfortable to ask questions and talk about their experiences and interests.
Her goal is to create an environment in which participants feel they can contact Pathways staff even after graduating from the program.
This is a population that has had fewer chances of accessing resources in workforce development, leadership, and career building skills during their teenage years. In her personal and professional experiences, Martinez has learned that this is a population that may not be accustomed to focusing solely on career goals when they've been in survival mode.
Martinez praises Southern Nevada nonprofits and government agencies doing service-based work for youth. The goal of Pathways is to supplement those programs and imagine new ways of engaging this vulnerable population, she said.
For example, in one workshop, participants practiced talking about their goals and qualifications in an elevator ride at Greenspun Hall with Brandon Perry, an MGM human resources representative, and Christopher Stream, the director of the UNLV School of Public Policy and Leadership. The exercise helps participants imagine what it would be like to meet a hiring manager and be tasked with concisely delivering a brief explanation about their qualifications.
Other exercises focus on themes like risk-taking. This year, Alec Ingold, a fullback in the NFL and former Las Vegas Raiders player, was a guest presenter who helped lead conversations during the five weeks. Ingold, who was adopted at birth, shared his stories about overcoming adversity and identity challenges. A graduate in business administration, Ingold discussed the importance of saving money, budgeting expenses, and learning about financial terminology.
Winston said she could relate to the program because the topics discussed were events in her life she was currently experiencing as an adult living on her own and going to work. She especially appreciated the practice she gained in asking for time off of work, responding to customer complaints, and critically thinking through potential conflicts.
She had shuffled through homes of relatives and friends as she attended Desert Rose High School, eventually living at the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center until she aged out of the foster care system at 18. She graduated high school with honors and now has a full-time job and pets. She is an aspiring singer and songwriter.
Winston encourages youths who have been in her shoes to not give up on goals even when there are “1,000 anchors holding you down.”
“Honestly what took me far is determination and knowing what you want,'' she said. “You have to keep moving.”