The evolution of the use of technology in society, a booming population, and the high demand for consumer goods are just some of the reasons why the need for individuals trained in STEAM and skilled trades is growing in the world’s economy. The Mid-Valley alone is home to many businesses, small and large alike, from Oregon Freeze Dry (Mountian House), ENTEK, and ATI to Lazarus 3D, Agility Robotics, and Daxbot who rely on a well-trained, highly skilled, local talent pool to compete and succeed in their markets.

Even with the number of STEAM and skilled trades job opportunities growing in the Linn and Benton County region, LatinX individuals are still under-represented and under-hired in local STEAM and skilled trades occupations despite a growing population and graduation rates

In response to this concern, the Mid-Valley STEM-CTE HUB launched Nuestro Futuro, a program designed to build and enhance career awareness among LatinX eighth graders at Albany Calapooia Middle School.

Career-Connected Learning team Danielle Jarkowsky and Dominga Sanchez, along with Casa Latinos Unidos, developed this culturally specific mentorship program that would inform participants and their families of local STEAM and skilled trade career options as well as the steps and skills necessary to pursue such pathways. 

A pilot and original iteration of this program was launched in 2021, with a limited range of offerings available, since the LatinX youth mentorship program was provided through the Zoom online platform. 

“Even though their interaction was online, the students found the conversations with mentors valuable. We saw the value in expanding the program,” said Jarkowsky.

Today’s version, Nuestro Futuro, is an in-person experience where students and their families can interact with mentors and industry professionals to ask questions about various jobs as well as about themselves to gather the information and inspiration necessary to determine an area of career interest and how to pursue that interest. This time around, participating students will be involved in hands-on learning by working on STEAM projects like robotics and circuit building as well as diving deeper into their own cultural and familial histories. 

Reflecting on their LatinX culture allows the students to focus on their strengths, assets, and cultural values when exploring career opportunities in a way that aides them in becoming successful and fulfilled adults that may be difficult without this tailored support. It is important for young people to see themselves in the hearts and faces of others who came before them to inspire them to aspire to a similar future. 

“The use of culturally responsive learning opportunities empowers students, in intellectual, social, emotional, and personal development,” said Sanchez, “This is important because it helps to create a supportive environment for Latinx youth and foster a sense of belonging, allowing them to enhance their cultural identity.” 

The success of this program will be measured by the involvement and engagement of the student participants and their families.

Questions about the program can be directed to Dominga Sanchez (for students and families) and Danielle Jarkowsky (business and industry).