This summer, Jamilee Gomez spent time in the HCC culinary arts kitchen learning to bake, she explored multi-media arts in the fine arts studio and practiced dusting for fingerprints as part of crime scene analysis — all while gaining valuable work experience and putting some money in the bank.
Gomez was one of four Gateway to College students who worked this summer as assistants in HCC's Summer Youth Programs. This was the first time HCC has hired assistants to complement instructors in its youth programs, which run for five weeks each summer in July and August.
Programs are geared for youth 8 to 16 years old and include cooking, video game design, sports clinics, fencing, robotics, engineering, filmmaking, web design, wilderness survival, criminal justice, arts exploration, and many others.
This summer, there were 325 students registered for HCC's Summer Youth Programs, an increase of about 20 percent from last year, according to Ken White, dean of Community Services.
"The Gateway students have been an incredibly huge resource to the faculty and staff in terms of assisting in classes, keeping students on task during breaks and lunch," he said. "They've been great about making sure folks are where they're supposed to be."
When she wasn't assigned to a specific program each week, Gomez worked as a "floater," visiting different classes each day.
"This was a good experience," said Gomez, who is 18 and from Springfield. "I used to work cleaning buildings so this was, like, different."
The jobs became available thanks to three grants awarded to HCC's Gateway to College program: two from Bank of America totaling $15,000 and one from First Niagara Bank for $5,000. The grants funded summer jobs and will pay for mentoring opportunities during the school year.
Three Gateway students have also started working in the HCC Library culling and de-commissioning old books. Beginning in September, several returning Gateway students will work as mentors for their new classmates.
"For almost all of them, it's their first real job — aside from fast food," said Vivian Ostrowski, HCC's Gateway to College coordinator. "And for all of them, it's their first professional job."
The Gateway to College program is a dual-enrollment program for students who have left high school or are at risk for dropping out. Students attend classes at HCC and college credits while also working toward their high school diplomas.
The summer jobs represent another first — the first time Gateway students have been hired at HCC for campus jobs. Because Gateway students are dual enrolled and technically still in high school, they are not eligible for work-study jobs on campus.
Each student had to go through a formal hiring process, just like any other state employee. Ostrowski said that process was as valuable as the actual work.
"They had to put together a resume and a cover letter," she said. "They interviewed. Sometimes twice. They had to get a CORI/SORI check and fill out paperwork through Human Resources. They had to sign up for direct deposit, which for some meant that they had to open a checking account. It's totally a real job."
The students earn $10 an hour. Gomez and her Summer Youth Programs colleagues worked 35 hours a week, which meant they made close to $2,000 for five weeks of work.
There is also an academic component to their employment. Gateway students are required to take a college success course and as a final project will prepare a portfolio that includes an updated resume, in both paper and electronic form; they will need to ask their supervisors to be a job reference, and make sure they have the correct contact information and names spelled right.
"We'll chat about what they learned and how they can talk about that in a future job interview and cover letter," Ostrowksi said. "They'll be asked to reflect on the different kinds of supervision they received, different management styles, how they resolved conflicts, handled power dynamics and workplace etiquette and how they grew. All the pieces."
Taneisha Claussell-Padilla had the opportunity to work in two Mindcraft camps (beginner and advanced), as well as Lego robotics, video game design and iPhone video. She used to work at Burger King, she said, which she hated, and now also works at Friendly's. Working in the Summer Youth Programs was a lot more fun.
"I love the kids," she said. "They're so smart. It's crazy."
Instructor and chef Domingo "Dino" Diaz, who ran five weeks of classes (cooking and computers), said the extra set of eyes was welcome, given he had up to 16 students in his classes. Gateway student Ciara Garcia, of Springfield, was with him for all five weeks.
"She was excellent," said Diaz, a 2012 graduate of HCC's Culinary Arts program. "Extremely helpful. The fact that she's there to help me just makes it a lot easier for the kids, for recess, for lunch, for bathroom breaks. I think the program is real good and they also get to learn something too, the things I'm teaching, especially the cooking. She loved that stuff."
STORY and PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Left) HCC Gateway to College student Hectsy Robles, from Holyoke, examines a compass during a wildnerness survival camp this summer. (Right) Jamilee Gomez, of Springfield, left, helps out during a baking class. (Thumbnail) Gateway to College student Ciara Garcia, of Springfield, looks on as a student works on a computer program.