Amplifying Student Voices: Meet NSC’s new Student Advisory Council

By Michael Richardson, May 09, 2024

What makes NSC’s policy advocacy so influential in state houses, on Capitol Hill, and with Republican and Democratic administrations over the last decades is that our work has long been grounded in our broad networks representing businesses, colleges, community organizations, public officials, and advocates – who we engage as we craft policy proposals and mobilize to advocate for and win concrete changes in skills policy.

Now, workers and learners will also be at the forefront of this broad network, reflecting NSC’s commitment to illuminating the real needs and experiences of students pursuing career-focused programs and pathways. NSC has assembled a Student Advisory Council aimed at helping inform and provide policy solutions as part of our Making College Work Campaign and our larger Voices for Skills network.

NSC’s Making College work campaign aims to transform postsecondary education by driving policy change that widens the path to postsecondary education, begins to redress structural racism in our education and training systems, and better serve students, employers, and our economy.

Through my experiences, I’ve come to recognize that policymakers must acknowledge the inadequacy of one-size-fits-all solutions,” says Rachel Wilkerson, Coordinator for the Office of Strategic Initiatives at Delgado Community College in New Orleans, Louisiana. “Non-traditional students, often found in community colleges, face unique challenges such as balancing work commitments during the day or on weekends. Therefore, our focus should extend beyond mere enrollment and retention rates; it should encompass addressing the multifaceted barriers that students encounter,” she says.

The Student Advisory Council is made up of 8 current and former students who are now (or have been) enrolled in career-focused programs at community or technical colleges. These student advisors will participate in a yearlong program where they will share their perspectives and experiences pursuing and navigating community colleges, workforce pathways and career focused credentials and inform policy solutions to improve access and completion of quality postsecondary programs. Their primary objective is to co-develop student-centered policy recommendations that address the unique challenges and aspirations of individuals navigating these educational pathways.

The Student Advisory Council will have the opportunity to:

  • Learn more about post-secondary and workforce systems and policy and how it relates to their experiences and the many ways they can advocate to help make change.
  • Develop policy recommendations to understand the experiences of learners pursuing career-focused credentials, hear what they want from their colleges and policymakers, and identify promising models for expanding their access to holistic supports for systems change.
  • Share their experiences and perspectives as learners to provide a deeper understanding of how existing structures and systems do and do not serve their needs and how systems could improve their access to and completion of community college programs and credentials that lead to careers that offer economic mobility.
  • Share their perspectives with policymakers and stakeholders in the postsecondary field through various activities.

Meet the Committee:

Lynne Hamblin is currently pursuing her associate’s degree in business with a marketing focus at Rogue Community College. While currently holding a career pathways certificate in Business Assistance, she plans to further her studies in public policy and grant writing and continuing her education at Southern Oregon University in Postsecondary Education Management. Beyond her academic pursuit, Lynne advocates for continued adult education, particularly in rural areas, emphasizing the importance of expanding skills and recognizing the value of skilled labor. As a student parent advocate, she fights tirelessly for educational access and opportunities for all. “I hope to bring light to policymakers that GED completion and skills training are an important investment to our workforce and an important investment to the wellbeing of our nations people,” she says.

Crystal Ann Hilbert embarked on her academic journey at Ivy Tech Community College, where she pursued a degree in medical assisting. Crystal’s experiences have fueled her passion for advocating for single parents, particularly those with multiple children. She hopes to facilitate an easier transition for people in similar situations, recognizing the challenges they face in balancing education, work, and caregiving responsibilities. Her career goal is to finish her degree in medical assisting. Crystal also serves on the advisory council for the Indiana Community Action Poverty Institute. Motivated by her own upbringing and a desire to provide a better life for her son, Crystal is driven to ensure that he doesn’t face the same struggles she encountered as a child.

Jane Kunze has set her sights on a career in the electrical field, driven by her aspiration to build a brighter economic future for herself and her family. Enrolled in the electrical lineman program at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Jane is embarking on a journey to become a certified electrician, following in the footsteps of her brothers. Through her education, Jane aims to gain the knowledge and skills needed to make a difference in the lives of those affected by the justice system. She’s determined to advocate for second chances and provide support for individuals, particularly mothers and fathers, who are seeking to rebuild their lives and futures.

Atheena “TT” Martinez has been enrolled at Pima Community College for the past three years, immersed in the IBEST program, specializing in Building Instruction Technology. Her dedication and hard work culminated in her earning certification in electrical work this past December. TT’s journey began with a simple goal of obtaining her GED. However, her ambition and drive led her to pursue a certification in electrical training, and she will graduate this month (May 2024) with an AAS in Electrical Engineering. Her goal is to use her education to support justice-impacted individuals, providing them with skills training and opportunities for meaningful careers.

Erica Moton holds an AA in Child Development from El Camino College and is now focused on a career in Avionics while continuing her work at Los Angeles International Airport. Erica graduated from the Building Skills Partnership Aviation Career Exploration Course at West LA College, paving the way for her current enrollment in the Aviation Technology Program at West LA College. Her journey is fueled by a desire to gain insight and share her experiences with others seeking to advance their careers. Erica is determined to advocate for resources that make education accessible to all, ensuring that no one misses opportunities to pursue their dreams. “Policymakers can learn what it takes for parents to be able to finish an educational program. They can learn what some of our needs are and what resources could really help us firsthand,” she says.

Kwame “Que” Pressley completed a program in IT computer support technician at Grand Rapids Community College, recognizing its flexibility and potential for his budding family. Now, Kwame holds a position with a digital innovation tech firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan while pursuing a four-year degree in Information Security and Intelligence at Ferris State University. Driven by a desire for more and inspired by his children, Kwame aspires to start his own Cyber Security firm and a nonprofit aimed at supporting startups and small companies unable to afford Cyber Security services, all while promoting Cyber Awareness to contribute to global peace.

Alisha Small‘s path led her to Montgomery College, where she discovered a passion for coaching and consulting. She learned about their coaching certification while researching opportunities for her children in the surrounding area. Armed with a certification from the college, she launched her own business, Living Fulfilled Coaching and Consulting. She says, “higher education comes in the form of degree programs and non-degree/training programs. Everyone deserves to have the full college experience regardless of what path of higher education they chose.”

Rachel Wilkerson’s journey began in 2008 when she enrolled in a community college CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) program, where she earned certifications as a Patient Care Technician and Home Health Aid through non-credit training in 2009. Over the next decade, she gained invaluable experience working with residents in various healthcare settings, including homes, nursing homes, and hospitals. She relocated to New Orleans where she pivoted to becoming a student worker in the workforce development department at Delgado Community College where she learned about stackable credentials and the WIOA system. She pursued a degree in business, graduating with a bachelor’s in organizational management. Currently, she serves in the Office of Strategic Admissions, where she leverages her experiences as a student to advocate for systemic improvements. Rachel is optimistic about her ability to effect meaningful change by collaborating with administration and sharing her insights to enhance student experiences and remove barriers to success.