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Marion County program aims to increase post-secondary enrollment and shrink skills gap through mentorship

Posted: 6:41 AM, Sep 24, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-24 08:17:41-04
Indy Achieves Mentorship Program.JPG

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INDIANAPOLIS — Hiring Hoosiers is RTV6's initiative to connect you to resources available to help you succeed not only in your career, but also in your education to get there.

In order to close the skills gap by 2027, Indianapolis needs an additional 215,000 job-ready credentials.

Indy Achieves is part of a new push from Mayor Joe Hogsett's office to create the next generation of qualified Hoosiers to fill these jobs by providing mentors to high school grads.

It is one of the first steps to the beginning of Jessica Ocelotl's dream career of being a nurse. The 18 year old Lawrence Central grad is a freshman at IUPUI. Ocelotl has a lot to be proud of.

"Being a freshman first generation student means a lot because I get to represent my family and that means a lot to me," says Ocelotl. "It is just really cool because I get to explore more by myself and lead myself."

Even this excited first year college student knows a helping hand, or even a text in this case, can really give her a leg up. That is why she applied for the first round of Indy Achieves' Mentorship Program that kicked off in February.

It is a 10-month commitment to change the lives of youth and adults in Marion County by keeping them on track to enroll and successfully start college.

All Ocelotl has to do when she needs help is simply send a text.

"It helps because I could message her with any questions because I feel like it is a lot to call in try to talk to somebody so when I have her on my phone I can just text her and ask her questions," explains Ocelotl. "I have asked her questions about a bill that I received and financial aid and all that. It was really helpful. I feel like I have an older sibling really because I can just text her whenever, it's not just so formal, it is a casual stuff."

On the other end of those text messages is Ruth Morales, a GIS Analyst for the City of Indianapolis' Public Safety Communications.

"There is a support system just kind of assuring them like, 'Hey everything is going to be fine, let me just find out, let me get more information of who you can talk to,'" explains Morales.

Morales volunteered to be a mentor with Indy Achieves program because it hits close to home.

"I kind of went through a similar experience and if I would have had this kind of mentorship program I feel like it would have been really helpful, unfortunately I didn't," says Morales. "There are still a lot of students who are still experiencing similar situations as I did, it's really important to sometimes have someone that you can text immediately and just ask a question. This type of support, resources are very much needed and very helpful for those high school students transitioning into college."

With this new program, Indy Achieves aims to raise Indianapolis' college attainment number to 65% by the year 2027.

"Somewhere in between 10% and 40% of students who want to go to college, who intend to go to college, never make it there," explains Yecenia Tostado, the Assistant Director of Indy Achieves. "They apply, they graduate from high school and then for some reason something happens during the enrollment process and they never matriculate into the fall semester. The mentorship program really started as an initiative to directly address that and make sure that we are assisting folks in enrolling in college."

The program runs from February through December. In it's initial pilot year, 350 students this year have been paired with personal mentors to help them through the journey of college applications, the enrollment process over the summer, and even through their first semester of school.

"We know that students, in addition to financial barriers they don't know what they don't know about the enrollment process so sometimes they miss an email, or they miss a form and sometimes they get off track and sometimes getting off track means that they won't enroll," says Tostado. "The mentor is able to intervene and provide support to make sure the students stay on track and complete all the steps and also to help them if they miss a step in the process."

It is a process that can be difficult but thanks to the guidance Ocelotl has, the first steps of her college path have been made a little more clear.

"It is really nice because like not everybody has somebody to talk to," explains Ocelotl. "Like my parents, I can't really talk to them about it because they never been through the college experience. This is helpful, it is super helpful. I am kind of scared but it is going to be fine because I have her to help me, Ruth, and it should be good."

Morales says being a mentor is not a big time commitment and Indy Achieves provides all the tools to help mentors be a good resource for their mentees.

Students interested in applying to Ivy Tech or IUPUI for the fall of 2020 can sign up for the new round of mentorships beginning this coming February.

To apply as a mentor or a mentee as well as find more information at: www.indyachieves.org/mentor .