On April 16, 2019, the Saint Francis University (SFU) Enactus team completed their pilot Uwork community development project. Uwork is an acronym for “Workforce Opportunities through Resources and Knowledge” and places Saint Francis University students in mentorship roles with area job-seekers through regional community outreach groups. These students provided training in career development knowledge areas such as responsible social networking, non-verbal/soft skills, self-esteem, resume and cover letter development, and professional writing and composition. Community partners for this project include the Center for Community Action (CCA) and the Altoona Area School District (AASD) Adult Education Program.
Enactus is an international student business club with the mission to use the free market for the benefit of society as a whole. The SFU Enactus Uwork team is co-led by freshmen Alex Kiepert and Morgan Flack with support from fellow freshmen Hunter Longenecker, Anne-Marie Larkin, and Taylor Ponchione, juniors Ali Anna and Emily Pollack, and senior Alexis DeLullo. Also providing content for Uwork were SFU Associate Professor Dr. Kelly Rhodes, SFU Career Services staff Beth McGregor, Kate Labriola, and Becky Cacciotti, and SFU Enactus co-advisors Ms. Nicole Bauman and Assistant Professor Kent Tonkin.
Uwork’s pilot deployment was funded by a grant from BNY Mellon awarded at the Enactus National Competition in May 2018. The SFU Enactus team spent the fall of 2018 planning project deployment and lining up community partners before beginning deployment in February 2019. Since that time, the Enactus team has presented 6 training sessions between the CCA and AASD, reaching approximately 20 high-risk job seekers. Participants in the pilot received a certificate of completion and a small gift for attending.
“Enactus’ primary mission is to make the world a better place while giving students opportunities for hands-on learning,” stated Bauman. “With Uwork, our students gain real-world experience while offering a needed service in the community.”
AASD Adult Education Program Director Tina Swineford stated that the need for programs like Uwork within Central PA is great, calling such outreach “essential.”
“Even in a recovering national economy, there are plenty of adult job seekers struggling for a way to re-enter the workforce,” she stated. “Programs like Uwork showcase the value of public-private partnerships.”
Because of the varying needs of Uwork’s community partners, the SFU Enactus team modified formats and schedules to meet the needs of individual constituents. CCA Employment, Advancement, and Retention Network (EARN) Staff Support Assistant Jonid Castillo praised the flexibility of the Uwork program and the willingness of student participants to learn on their feet.
“Attendance at many of our sessions can be fluid, based on everything from transportation to job interviews,” she states. “The modular nature of the program developed by SFU Enactus really enabled them to respond quickly to requests from our constituents.”
Student facilitators were instrumental in some of the required improvisation to ensure that these sessions were successful. Hunter Longenecker explained he and his fellow students often changed content and presentation approaches based on real-time observation of attendees.
“During some of our smaller sessions, it just made sense to go more one-on-one with attendees as opposed to a typical lecture format,” he stated. “As the level of formality came down, so did barriers between people!”
Many student participants emphasized that the community-engaged learning experience was personally moving. Uwork Project Co-Lead Morgan Flack praised the impact Uwork has had on the relationship between the students involved and adult learners.
“I can honestly say that serving others has been one of the most humbling parts of Uwork,” she states. “It has given me a real opportunity to see my classroom business skills used in a way that might actually change someone’s life!”
Despite the success of Uwork’s pilot deployment, the program was not without challenges. Many community partner schedules conflicted with SFU volunteer class times. Other challenges included high rates of participant changeover and difficulties with transportation for attendees.
“Many of these job-seekers don’t have cars and public transportation is problematic in this region,” said volunteer Anne-Marie Larkin. “We will be exploring alternative means of content delivery for future project expansion.”
To that end, the Uwork project team plans on expanding program offerings for the fall through existing and developing community partners and acquisition of additional funding. Uwork co-lead Alex Kiepert said that the team is actively pursuing grants and alternative avenues. “We’ve realized this project has plenty of room to grow and develop,” states Kiepert. “As long as there’s a need, we will do our best to be there.”
Professor Tonkin plans on integrating Uwork into his fall 2019 course offerings at SFU, giving students in his Management 201 (Human Resource Management) class the opportunity to work in helping to better prepare job-seekers.
“This fall, I hope to see some of my students serving as mock-interviewers and actively engaging with the public,” he states. “These kinds of experiences really make theory come to life.”
The Saint Francis University Uwork team gratefully acknowledges the support of their community partners, the Shields School of Business Dean Dr. Randy Frye and Associate Dean Dr. John Miko, BNY Mellon, SFU Career Services, Dr. Kelly Rhodes, Enactus USA, and the SFU community for support.
For more information, please visit www.francis.edu/uwork or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org