Q&A with Ely Flores - M.A. Social Impact, 2016
Ely is currently the Director of Civic Engagement for the NALEO Educational Fund
As a Social Impact major, my studies and research focused on learning how to best support "Non-Traditional Learners" (young adults ages 16-24 who are still pursuing a high school degree) Through Better Understanding Their Struggles & Obstacles. This was an exploratory study set out to better understand the obstacles and issues stopping non-traditional learners from completing high school in order to inform youth development agencies and educational institutions how to better support them.
I chose this study area because every year, 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the U.S. Non-traditional learners make up the majority of this drop-out population. The economic implications of individuals' not finishing high school and college are vast. I had a personal connection to this study because I was once a youth who was once kicked out several traditional high schools and eventually my school district. I faced many obstacles just trying to finish high school including, trying to stay out of jail and raising a son.
This study put together a literature review to help readers define non-traditional learners and convened a group of my organization's, LEAD (Leadership through Empowerment, Action, & Dialogue Inc.) stakeholders to interpret the information. Focused group dialogues and surveying was utilized in the interpretation process. The people surveyed ranged in age, experience, and connection to the topic of non-traditional learners. The survey found that the studies that exists about non-traditional learners do not fully define or represent the population of 18 – 24 year old youth that are still pursuing their high school education. 90% felt that "Financial and Family Status" somewhat represent LEAD's non-traditional population while the surveyed were split when it came to "Enrollment Patterns" and "High School Status." I believe this capstone project and research helps youth serving agencies better understand the population they are serving and demonstrates the need to include support services into their programs. In our experience, young people that join programs like ours have all the intentions of pursuing higher education but many times fall short because of the struggles they face being non-traditional learners.
When I first began thinking about what I wanted to do as a capstone project, I was thinking big. Although thinking big is good, the amount of time you have to conduct your research and deliver your capstone project is not a lot. My advice to prospective students would be think about a capstone project where most if not all of the elements will be in your control and capacity. As students are thinking of an issue to tackle through their capstone project, its important to think about what they actually impact in that given issue area and try to not tackle things that they have little experience and capacity to do. Reach out to partners for support and do not be shy to ask CLU for support.
The Phase II project intended to build on the knowledge and experience generated through the Capstone Project. The goal of the Phase II project - Youth Home Groups for Success is to pilot and create peer-to-peer support groups called "Home Groups" as a form of enhancing the support system for non-traditional learners pursuing their high school diploma. This project was piloted at a strategic YouthBuild program with the support of YouthBuild USA. The target population are youth ages 18-24 who are currently participating in a YouthBuild Program which provides education, counseling and job skills to unemployed young adults, generally the high school dropout population. The participating population have not only benefited from being part of this project but also gain valuable leadership and collaboration skills through weekly workshops. These workshops intend to strengthen and offer support to the "Home Groups." In the end, we want to support the successful completion of these youth in the YouthBuild Program and examine the effectiveness of strategically using peer-to-peer support groups within the program's structure. This project is an attempt to create a support system within youth development programs in order to maximize the success of youth. Our findings will be shared with the Affiliated Network of YouthBuild USA which is over 200 programs across the country serving our target population.
I truly enjoyed the flexibility of the program and the support I was given to balance my work and personal life. The professors and staff are extremely supportive and loving. I felt that I belonged not just to a University but also a community. I am most proud of meeting the academic and leadership challenge posed to me by CLU through their courses and gatherings. I love continuously being invited to gatherings and convenings
My nonprofit LEAD is still up and running but on a lesser capacity than before. We are continuing to build on the knowledge and experience we had through our years of work and through what we did in the Capstone project and Phase II. In December 2017, I became the Director of Civic Engagement for NALEO Educational Fund who is the leading nonpartisan organization facilitating the Latino participation in the political process from citizenship to elected office. In my role, I passionately run statewide citizenship, voter engagement, and Census 2020 programs and campaigns. I believe this connects to my future goals of working closer to civic engagement and governmental initiatives.