By Shawn Fiala, WorkAbility III Vocational Specialist
“Mentoring is being a mountain guide on the trek of a career – pointing out routes, sometimes pushing barriers out of the way, sharing what you’ve learned from prior trips (where the oasis is, where to get the best view), pointing out hazards (cliffs, bears, and falling rocks), helping a person get the right skills in their backpack for the trip, and knowing how to call for a helicopter in a crisis. Sometimes a mentee only needs a point in the direction of the trailhead. Other times you get to go along for the whole trek.”
– Eve Hill, leading disability rights attorney of Brown, Goldstein & Levy and Class of 2018 Inductee to the Susan Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame (https://ndmc.pyd.org/hall-of-fame/class-of-2018/eve-hill/)
The value of mentoring is universally recognized as being a contributory force to personal growth, academic success, and career development. This is seen in our workforce as well as on our campuses in the form of peer mentors who both formally and informally create meaningful relationships with mentees inside and outside of the classroom. These relationships help to shape the postsecondary experience and ultimately frame the issues that can lead to enhanced employment outcomes for students. At the public policy level as well, peer mentoring is a formal aspect of providing pre-employment transition services as part of Section 511 of the Rehabilitation Act (as amended by Title IV of WIOA).
For this communique article, the authors will provide information about a new and exciting resource available to California community college (and any student with a disability enrolled in a postsecondary education setting) students in the form of an online career mentoring program called Campus Career Connect (C3). As vocational counselors working in the community college setting, we were interested in what mentoring resources were available to students with disabilities online and through self-referral, and how that differed from the mentoring experienced on our campuses.
To communicate this information, the authors consulted with a national organization that is on the forefront of creating mentoring networks, coalitions, and programs- Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD). In addition to promoting broad initiatives that seek to imbue and instill disability pride, Partners for Youth with Disabilities also empowers individuals by connecting them with mentors which guide, support, and accompany them on the journey toward their chosen career paths. Campus Career Connect (C3) is but one example of these efforts.
Genelle Thomas is the Director of National Initiatives for Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD) and the authors interviewed her for this article.
Q: What is PYD and your mission and goals?
A: PYD’s goal is to create a world where young people with disabilities will be able to live with dignity and pride in who they are, and to lead self-determined lives filled with purpose. To make this happen, we build the skills and abilities of young people with disabilities, and increase the inclusivity of workplaces, organizations, and communities.
Q: What is Campus Career Connect (C3)? How did it originate and what kind of impact has it had where implemented?
A: Campus Career Connect (C3) is a national online, accessible group mentoring platform designed to support employment goals of college students and transition-aged adults with disabilities. C3 offers a safe environment for individuals to improve their general employment readiness skills, as well as receive mentoring around disability-specific workplace topics, such as disclosure and self-identification, requesting accommodations, and accessible transportation. C3 is currently funded by Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation and the Milbank Foundation.
The C3 concept was developed by a young professional with a disability because she and her peers experienced multiple barriers to employment. They determined that access to mentors, expanded professional networks, and soft skills development were missing in the traditional supports for college students with disabilities. After outreach within her network, PYD was asked to lead the effort to develop a technology network to create these opportunities. PYD was asked to play this role due to our 31 years of history empowering youth with disabilities to reach their full potential, both in employment and quality of life indicators. PYD has received a number of awards and accolades for this work and is often sought out as an advisor by other organizations seeking to replicate PYD programs.
To develop C3, PYD recruited a national advisory group of people with disabilities, leveraged the feedback of Mass Commission for the Blind, and engaged moderators with disabilities. In 2015-2016, PYD pilot tested C3 with 29 students with disabilities from University of California-Berkeley and transition aged youth from Mass. Commission for the Blind. Results indicated that 19 enrollees secured employment or an internship within the project period. In addition, enrollees went on 56 interviews during that time frame. Participants reported, “C3 is a platform where members can better be connected in a secure place specifically dedicated to serve our needs.” and “C3 can offer communication, a place to ask questions that are hard to find elsewhere.” Since that time, due to funding from Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation and the Milbank Foundation, C3 has expanded to be available to students nationwide.
Q: How can California community college students with disabilities expect to benefit from being a part of C3?
A: C3 is a free resource available to community college students with a disability in all states. C3 offers a safe environment for individuals to improve their general employment readiness skills, as well as receive mentoring around disability-specific workplace topics, such as disclosure and self-identification, requesting accommodations, and accessible transportation.
Q: Who are the career mentors in the C3 program and where do they come from?
A: Through a collaboration with four geographically diverse “Disability: In” (formerly U.S. Business Leadership Network) affiliates, C3 participants engage with a community of professional and peer e-Mentors to increase their networks, receive advice and support in achieving goals, communicate with one another through live chat or direct messages, participate in topical webinars related to employment readiness, and engage in live interview fairs hosted by local Disability: In networks.
Mentors come from a variety of industries and companies, including Alira Health, Boston Children’s Hospital, Clifton Larson Allen, Current Staffing Solutions, CVS Health, David Clark Company, Dept. of Children and Families, EPI-USE America Inc., ForwardWorks Consulting, Gillette, Gartner, Haircuts Ltd, John Hancock, L.E.K. Consulting, Maine Chamber of Commerce, MAPFRE Insurance, Metrowest Regional Transit Authority, National Ability Center, National Organization of Disability, PYD, Prosigo Executive Search and Career Advancement Services, Secretary of the Commonwealth of MA, self-employed, Sikorsky Aircraft, The Carroll Center for the Blind, University of Mass Medical School, United Health Group, Veterans Affairs Hospital, and US Department of Transportation.
For more information see: https://www.pyd.org/pyds-online-mentoring-program-expands-nationwide/
Note: Students in California can register for Campus Career Connect here: c3.pyd.org.