Bringing Two Perspectives to Program Development: Participant and Planner

This summer, being both a participant of the Post Secondary Education Retention Program (PSERP) at the Iowa Homeless Youth Center (IHYC) and also a fellow implementing a project for the program has been really awesome. The mission of my project has been to encourage the participants of the program to become involved at their schools and in their community. Most of the people we're working with are either first generation college students, low income, and/or at risk of homelessness. Unfortunately, as a part of this population, we have more hurdles to jump over to be able to live a more stable life.

I have dedicated a lot of time in planning and creating a workshop that taught the students the importance of becoming involved while working on obtaining a degree. As a first generation college student, not knowing what to expect when entering college was difficult for me. There were many things I didn’t know how to do and had to learn on the way, such as filling out the Financial Aid forms, registering for classes, how many hours I should study for each class, etc. When I first started college, my main focus was getting my work done and getting good grades. I knew I wanted to get involved but I wasn’t sure how I could. I made a few new friends and they encouraged me to join clubs on campus, which I did and then later took on leadership roles within. If it wasn’t for those new friends, I wouldn’t have known there were clubs on campus. Many of the other PSERP students face the same difficulty, and the student engagement aspect works to address that.

Another issue PSERP staff have come to realize is that students graduate and are finding it difficult to find a job because they do not have enough experience or the skills needed to fulfill a position's requirements in their desired field. A portion of my project focused on learning about the students' educational goals and what their interests are by having them complete a survey. After gathering their responses, I reached out to organizations and learned more about various volunteer opportunities, possible internships, and shadowing programs. As I collected this data, I created a document with a list of community organizations and short descriptions for the students to choose from. This was a way of giving that extra lift to the students who might need it to get started.

The workshop I created took place on August 10th at IHYC in downtown Des Moines. I had the opportunity to attend the IHYC Golf Classic event and was inspired by an activity they used to engage attendees. I decided to create a simulation activity for my workshop which explored five important factors in participants lives: 

  Participants doing a team-building activity at PSERP workshop

Participants doing a team-building activity at PSERP workshop

  1. Employment
  2. Education
  3. Communication
  4. Networking
  5. Self-Care

The simulation activity was based on a fictional girl named Lisa and her journey as a low income, at risk of homelessness, first generation college student. The students participated in various activities with the purpose of understanding the importance of communicating well with others and engaging in school and/or community events. The students learned about beneficial networking tips and self-care techniques. The workshop ended with some outdoor volunteer work and ice cream to cool off.

  PSERP participants closing out the workshop with a service project

PSERP participants closing out the workshop with a service project

Many doors of opportunity have opened for me because I made the decision to become involved.

I truly had a wonderful experience working behind the scenes creating this project. I’ve learned a lot about the program as a whole this summer and I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to take on this leadership role. As a low income, first generation college student, I have experienced the importance of becoming involved at school and in my community. Many doors of opportunity have opened for me because I made the decision to become involved. I look forward to see all the doors of opportunity open for the other students as they begin to get involved in their school and in their community.