Janel Samuels knew at an early age that she wanted to become a nurse. Her grandparents, who helped raise her, suffered from many health problems. “Part of the reason I wanted to go into the medical field was because as a child I felt so helpless,” she says. “I couldn’t help them. I couldn’t make them better because I didn’t know how.”
While attending middle school, she met a traveling nurse at an on-campus career fair. “I remember listening to her talk about her job,” Samuels says. “She loved it so much, and it sounded like it embraced two of the key elements that I always wanted in my life: to travel and to help people. Listening to her and hearing her story inspired me.”
The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership connects business and schools to support career pathways and work-based learning experiences to help students like Samuels achieve their career goals. Unlike most economic development agencies across the country, CVEP promotes a Workforce Excellence initiative that’s integral to economic vitality. “We think backward from the jobs and from the employer needs, then implement strategies that get our local students prepared for those jobs of the future,” says Sheila Thornton, CVEP vice president of Workforce Excellence.
The Coachella Valley Economic Blueprint, drafted in 2009 and currently being revised for release in early 2015, identified three industry sectors poised for growth and job creation: healthcare; arts, media, and entertainment; and advanced technology. CVEP focuses on these industries as it aligns its business development (attraction, expansion, and retention) and workforce development initiatives.
On the workforce side of the equation, CVEP facilitates career exploration and work-based learning — including internships, mentorships, and job shadows — by connecting businesses in these industries with elementary, middle, and high schools in all three Coachella Valley school districts. The programs help create a well-prepared local labor force tailored to meet market needs. “In Desert Sands Unified School District, you have a kindergarten through fifth grade medical magnet academy,” Thornton says. “Those students learn all their core academics and career-themed concepts.” In addition, local high schools boast 18 career academies — schools within schools — that teach practical, applicable job skills and encourage college enrollment.
Experiences outside the classroom give students a perspective on what it’s like to work in different environments. “Mentorships from businesspeople are key, because it’s not just the work; it’s work habits,” says Christine Anderson, superintendent of the Palm Springs Unified School District. “It’s coming in every day on time, with energy and interest in bringing ideas to a business. Our students need to hear that from businesspeople, not just from teachers and parents.”
Samuels pursued her own career preparation by enrolling in science and math courses in high school and then looking to join any club related to the medical field. She found the sports medicine club and a new mentor in Palm Springs High School teacher Mike Ventura. “He gave me guidance on everything,” she says. “He showed me how to apply to colleges, he showed me how to fill out a scholarship [application], and he wrote me letters of recommendation. Even now, he’s a mentor to me.”
By her senior year, Samuels was president of her school’s chapter of Health Occupations Students of America and spoke at CVEP’s Healthcare Industry Council, where she met representatives from colleges, hospitals, and CVEP’s scholarship and support program, which offers financial resources, college readiness and financial management workshops, and one-on-one counseling.
At the meeting, she was invited to apply for a scholarship. “They don’t just give you money,” Samuels says. “They give you support. You have the mentorship, and they also help connect you to internships.”
Samuels applied for a paid summer internship at CVEP, but the position went to her best friend. Undaunted, she worked — without pay — alongside her friend to develop what is now called the Emerging Health Professionals Work Group.
“We got a grant, and now every year we have an annual Emerging Health Professionals Career Showcase where we assemble students from the six health career academies across the desert, who present to their peers about that profession … to inspire these students to
get into these professions,” she says.
CVEP — through a grant from College Access Foundation of California and local matching partners — provides about $1.4 million in scholarships to Coachella Valley students each year. “We do a lot of work around counseling for students in terms of capturing financial aid, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and seeing if we can help them find other scholarships and grant funding to assure their success in college,” Thornton says. “Over the past six years, CVEP and matching partners have given out about 1,800 scholarships totaling about $9 million.”
CVEP has supported Samuels with scholarships throughout her nursing education. “Not only have they helped me financially, they’ve helped me seek out health professionals and seek out potential jobs,” she says. “This is probably one of the best opportunities that I’ve ever had.”
Samuels expects to graduate in the spring of 2016, then work for two years in the Coachella Valley before registering for traveling nurse assignments. Eventually, she hopes to return to school to become a nurse practitioner.