Sonja Vega said Thomas Nelson has more than 20 students in the Great Expectations program.
Sonja Vega has been the Great Expectations coach for less than a year, but already has big plans for the future.
“I’d really like to make sure that all the foster youth in our service area, at least, know that they have this opportunity,” she said of the program that helps foster youth with education and workforce training after high school.
That became a little easier when the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education (VFCCE) recently announced Thomas Nelson was one of 11 schools within Virginia Community Colleges (VCCS) awarded a Joe and Linda Daniel Great Expectations Innovation grant. The College was given a total of $20,000 for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years to fund student interns for the program. Vega’s plans to have two student interns, each of whom will provide six hours a week of mentoring and outreach. Vega currently does a lot of outreach, but said it’s more effective when she’s accompanied by Great Expectations students. Such was the case with a recent presentation at an area behavioral center. Afterward, one of the women who worked at the center approached Vega.
Vega said the woman told her: “The presentation was really good, don’t get me wrong. But the best thing you did for us was when you brought the students in.”
That was nice to hear, but not a complete surprise to Vega.
“We pretty much know this: It’s better coming from No. 1 a peer, and 2, someone who’s experienced what you’re experiencing now,” Vega said.
Current Thomas Nelson Great Expectation students will also benefit from the grant and the internships, and not just financially.
“It also helps with the buy-in of the students in the program,” Vega said. “Now they’re buying into what we’re doing, and then they’ll continue to reach out to the community.”
That aspect has the potential for another payoff down the road.
“If they have a good experience here, then once they leave Thomas Nelson and maybe go to their four-year (school) or even go out and start working in the workforce, they’ll still be talking about the Great Expectations program,” Vega said. “This is really going to help us reach out further in the community.”
In addition to outreach, the student interns also will help Vega with activities and connect to the students in the program on a regular basis.
Great Expectations steers foster youth ages 17-24 toward higher education and career options. The VCCS launched the program in 2008, and it began at Thomas Nelson in 2015. Vega said there are more than 20 students currently in the program at the College, 10 of which are in the transfer program and a few more heading into the Workforce program. Vegas wants to spread the word to anyone she thinks would benefit from the program but might not be aware of it.
“The internship program will help (us) reach out to those students,” she said. “It’s an opportunity a lot of students don’t know that’s available to them.”