By Alejandra Pérez
Because I’m a young educator, some folks might feel it is inherently easy for me to do youth engagement work, but in reality, it’s terrifying. As the famous protest chant goes, “the youth right now are the truth right now,” and I think that’s why those of us who have the privilege to work in education must acknowledge that our work is for youth, which means we must work with—and alongside—youth. It is our responsibility to give them space to really hear their concerns, listen to their ideas, and candidly answer their questions.
For the last year, I’ve been one of the team members organizing DiscoverU, an initiative that supports college and career exploration for students of all grades. I knew it was necessary to engage with youth and get their ideas on how to make DiscoverU more accessible and fun. Therefore, I decided to create the first-ever DiscoverU Student Design Team. DiscoverU has a Design Team made up of college and career experts who volunteer their time to plan our events, and I figured that the students we serve might have some ideas for us as well.
I planned a week-long program for a group of rising 10th graders from Renton and Lindbergh high schools who had already attended worksite tours last year. The goals were:
- Let the students experience different opportunities by visiting colleges and companies around the region.
- Get feedback on DiscoverU materials.
- Have the students help produce three worksite tour training videos— each for students, educators and chaperones.
As everything was coming together, I set up gatherings over pizza with the students to tell them more about the program. I was so scared! I didn’t want to bore them away from the program, so I did my best to be as authentic as possible. I gave them space to get to know me and feel comfortable enough to ask questions—which they did! Afterwards, I felt super excited and confident that it was going to be an amazing program.
The week finally arrived, and our first day was at Renton Technical College. As I waited for the students with our videographer Jama (who helped plan the program) and my colleague Julie, I felt so nervous that the students wouldn’t even show up. But when they arrived looking ready for the day, that fear immediately disappeared.
During the tour at Renton Tech, the students saw multiple programs in action. Some highlights: dodging the sparks flying everywhere in the welding classroom, watching an instructor operate a robot, and doing interactive activities with the medical assistant class! At the end of the day, we moved to a classroom where Jama, Julie, and I shared our personal education stories with the students. As we talked and joked about our own high school experiences, our college pathways, and our current careers, the students became more and more comfortable with us.
On the second day, we headed to Galvanize, a tech education and co-working space. There, the students learned about the tech world, startup companies, and little-known certification programs. On day three, we headed to Facebook in Seattle, where our amazing host Amy showed us around the open-plan office, the beautiful art, and encouraged us to mark our day on the Facebook Wall (we literally wrote on it!). The fourth day arrived, and we headed up to the top floor of Seattle’s second tallest building to visit the Boston Consulting Group. As the students asked questions about office culture and then gave us feedback on youth outreach, we tried not to be too distracted by the incredible view!
On the final day, I just couldn’t believe how perfectly everything had gone. We headed to Madrona Venture Group, where our host Dan gave us an in-depth tour and then organized a panel of employees to talk with the students—and they all LOVED it! They got to ask professionals all kinds of questions about their life paths and aspirations and see some of the possibilities of their own futures.
At the very end, as the students were writing thank-you cards to all the places that hosted us, they also took a short survey about how the program had gone. I was so happy when I saw that 100% of the students said they had learned about a new college or career pathway they didn’t know about before. They also shared that they would be interested in continuing to be involved with DiscoverU. Even though I was worried at first, it was so rewarding to work directly with youth again. After all, youth work must always be youth centered!
[A special thank-you to all those who made the DiscoverU Student Design Team possible: Jama Abdirahman, Barbara Fujita, Nichola Fulmer, Susan Huynh; our hosts at Renton Technical College, Galvanize, Facebook, Boston Consulting Group, and Madrona Venture Group; and most of all, the seven student leaders: Dulce, Emma, Gamachu, Jason, Kaylee, Kennady, and Priti.]
Alejandra is the College and Career Success Coordinator at Community Center for Education Results. She leads DiscoverU activities and supports additional college and career-focused projects. Alejandra’s passion for educational equity comes from her advocacy with and for undocumented students and their families in Washington State and around the nation.