REEO: Giving Community College Students a Leg Up
Stimpfel, Scott, Phi Kappa Phi Forum
In 2002, even though I had graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) summa cum hude, I found that I had very few job prospects. I had transferred to USC from Pasadena City College after my sophomore year, and I began to wonder if my difficulty finding a job might have something to do with the fact that I was a community college transfer student. I started asking other transfer students if they were having similar experiences. The answer was yes.
The truth is that community college transferees can be at a significant disadvantage relative to their peers at four-year institutions when it comes to finding a job after graduation. Transfer students miss out on the professional development process that is normally a part of one's freshman and sophomore years. During those two critical years, underclassmen are able to watch and learn while upperclassmen navigate the process of applying for internships and jobs. Underclassmen also develop tight-knit social networks with classmates to share information about recruiters, companies, and professional resources. Complicating matters further, most desirable internship applications are due within the first few months of the junior year, precisely when most transfer students are still acclimating to the culture of a four-year institution. Students like me, who transfer to a four-year institution after two years of community college, are left to figure these things out on their own.
After graduation, fellow USC alumnus Chad Edwards and I decided to do something to empower community college and transfer students. With the support of faculty members at USC, we founded Resources for Educational and Employment Opportunities (REEO) in 2002. We envisioned REEO providing financial, professional, and academic resources to economically disadvantaged and ethnically underrepresented community college students interested in transferring to four-year institutions. At first, we organized informational events at local community colleges that attracted around twenty to thirty participants. Those same events now attract an average of more than three hundred students per session, and many of the attendees wait in line for more than an hour after the events are over to ask the speakers follow-up questions. Through its various programs, REEO has grown to help community college students do everything from building a professional résumé, developing a professional wardrobe, and learning to interview, to preparing to transfer to a four-year institution.
REEO targets community college students as early as possible in their academic careers. As Chad Edwards explains, "We organize speaker panels and transfer workshops that encourage first-year students to begin thinking about both the transfer process and their own professional development sooner rather than later." At these sessions, recent transfer students and faculty from four-year institutions spend time discussing the transfer process, financial aid, and the skills needed to succeed after transferring. "A community college is a commuter environment," says Edwards, "The classes are smaller, and peer relationships are more transient. Making the move into a research-driven four-year institution can present significant challenges." Speakers from REEO's corporate partners also discuss skills that are critical for students to succeed in the workforce, including communication and networking skills, which tend to be underdeveloped in community college students.
In their second year, students can apply to participate in REEO's Rising Stars Program (RSP) if they have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, leadership, and community service. RSP participants work closely with volunteer mentors from USCs Marshall School of Business and network with community leaders, business professionals, and other students who have successfully completed the transfer process. "The students in the Rising Stars Program have incredible potential, and they are so determined to be successful," says Bangaly Kaba, director of our mentor program and an MBA student at the Marshall School of Business. …