How does Isela Melendez-Carpio know she’s been successful? When a student believes they are fully capable of achieving their dreams.
This isn’t always easy. Many of the students Melendez-Carpio works with as a career program manager for Posse DC suffer from “imposter syndrome;” their socio-economic background can make them feel like they don’t deserve the prestigious internships, fellowships, jobs, or graduate schools that she connects them with.
But Melendez-Carpio works hard to boost their sense of self-worth by developing a strong personal relationship with her students, which is a big goal of The Posse Foundation. Now in 10 different cities, Posse recruits urban high school students who have demonstrated leadership and academic excellence to attend top-tier universities. Students receive a full-tuition scholarship, support from Posse staff, and attend school with a cohort of other students from their city (their posse).
America’s Promise Alliance heard from Melendez-Carpio about what excites her in the field—and what challenges her. Take a look at her answers below:
How does your work help create a GradNation for all?
The Posse Foundation is unlike any other scholarship foundation. It’s a comprehensive college access and youth development program. Once students are awarded the scholarship, we start preparing them the months before they leave for college. Once they are on-campus, they receive support from their mentor who is a tenured faculty member, their Posse, and Posse trainers who visit them each semester. I also visit them during the fall to lead host career workshops. Because of this support, 90 percent of our Scholars graduate from college on time.
What successes in your community are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the youth I have worked with who reach their full potential and become self-sufficient.
I have worked with one student for many years, since before my time at Posse, who graduated high school a few weeks ago. I started working with her when she first arrived to the country, and have served as her mentor through her many challenges as a first-generation immigrant and young mother. At her graduation, she received the Student of Year Award, and now she is going to college with a scholarship.
Recently, I worked with a DC Posse scholar who is a rising senior at the University of Wisconsin, where she studies civil rights and the LGBTQ community. I encouraged her to apply for a Humanities In Action Fellowship, but she was discouraged at first because she felt like opportunity wasn’t meant for her. After lots of prodding from myself and other mentors, she finally applied. This summer, she is in Poland with the fellowship doing research on policy-making in under-represented communities. I know I’ve succeed when students realize that they can do it.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?
Part of my job is connecting youth to internships and employment with Fortune 500 companies to change the face of leadership to reflect the people that live here. Much of the professional sector lacks socio-economic diversity, and it can be challenging for our Scholars/Alumni to maneuver through these companies/organizations.
Often our Scholars struggle with Imposter Syndrome and start to doubt themselves because they look different, didn’t go to an Ivy League school, and don’t have the same experiences as everyone else. They can feel unwelcomed and like they can’t connect. I remind myself that changing this corporate culture takes time; it won’t happen overnight. I focus on reminding Scholars that they deserve that position because they are leaders and attend the top 100 colleges/universities in the country. Our Scholars/Alumni are well on their way to changing the face of our countries leadership.
What principles guide your work in education and youth development?
In my five years working with young people, I found that relationships are most important. Young people recognize when you aren’t being genuine versus when you really do want to help. For my job, developing these relationships is the best way to grasp what they want out of their career trajectory.
That said, there is no one approach; students are all unique. Some students are highly motivated, so they will constantly reach out to me and take initiative, others are in the middle, and then others who are not as receptive to help. My general approach is to be personal and build rapport by sharing my personal story and finding commonalities. Lastly, it doesn’t hurt to have a have a sense of humor and charisma.
It doesn’t matter if young people are in high school, college, or a young professional—the relationship piece is key.
Describe what makes your work unique in three words or phrases.
For more stories like this one, read “An Investment in Students is an Investment in Communities.”