Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Field Report: Getting to Know You…My First Month as a VISTA – Omote Ekwotafia

Cowen-puzzle

In my first month, I had to get to know all the pieces that make up my host site and how I fit into that picture.

Education reform is a slightly complex and thoroughly worthwhile issue, as I have learned in my first month at my host site, Cowen Institute. I really had a lot of reading to do and an extensive list of acronyms to learn. I certainly don’t know it all, but the State of Public Education in New Orleans (SPENO) provided the basics. I also learned a bit more about the current hot issue of Common Core Standards. Finally, I dug into the Opportunity Youth Data Reference Guide; it touched on the issue of disconnected youth, which intersects with the juvenile justice issues with which I am familiar.

EMPLOY-Collab-graphic

Graphic: EMPLOY Collaborative via http://www.employcollaborative.org

Disconnected youth are youth from the ages of 16-24 years old who are neither in school or working. One of Cowen Institute’s strategic initiatives, Earn and Learn Career Pathways Program, focuses on reconnecting disconnected youth with their community. Cowen Institute is also a lead partner in the EMPLOY Collaborative. I was fortunate enough to sit in on an EMPLOY Collaborative meeting and learn about their Pathways Project. All the learning was the fun part. After getting to know a bit more about my host site, it was time to dive into my VISTA Assignment Description.

My challenges of the month revolved around my two main job duties, communications support and intern supervision. First on the list of priorities was acquiring fall interns, but there was no concrete internship recruitment timeline or system and the fall semester had already begun. I was definitely frustrated and overwhelmed as I took on the task of creating an intern recruitment system and taking the many existing internship materials and putting them in one digital place, accessible to my successor. By my second week, I collected all of my job descriptions and was able to set up interviews with a good pool of candidates. In the end, there was a lot of back and forth and it was my first time interviewing from the other side of the table, but with the support of my colleagues, we ended up with great interns for the fall.

With interns in place, I could focus my energy on kick-starting Cowen’s social media strategy and website update. I had started the projects, but they mostly sat on my back burner. My supervisor gave me the freedom to run with these projects, which made it fun, because I had no idea where to start. Although I have Communications experience, I’d never created a social media strategy before, or any kind of communications strategy at all. I certainly had never had the freedom to manage a website update. With a little research and a little common sense, I made some exciting first steps. The final products of both projects are still under construction, but I look forward to the results. To be continued…

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