Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO)
Young Women’s Equity Project (YWEP)
IRCO’s Young Women’s Equity Project (YWEP) supports low income, young immigrant and refugee women in their pursuit of academic excellence in advanced courses in mathematics or science (including computer science), in order to increase the number of women from these backgrounds who enter highly skilled careers in the math and science fields. Historically, women from ethnic backgrounds have been underrepresented in these fields. YWEP uses a strengths-based model to guide young women through decisions conventionally not available to them. Reports published by national organizations show that gender biases against girls and women still pervade the U.S. educational system, and that women continue to be channeled into traditionally female-dominated, low-wage jobs. For example, the field of computer science continues to demonstrate decreased participation by women. Today women make up less than 10% of the recipients of engineering-related bachelor’s degrees (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003). Furthermore, research has demonstrated that immigrant and refugee girls with their families, struggle with unfamiliarity with the US school system, personal trauma as refugees, and lack of age-appropriate education for students who have experienced disruption to the extent that their academic understanding is below grade-level (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Equity Center).
Each Year YWEP works with 50 young refugee/immigrant African and Slavic women for 2 to 3 years, in order to enroll participants in college or vocational training, or secure science and math career path employment. YWEP also provides math/science awareness activities to other young refugee women in the Portland metropolitan area through a series of outreach and orientation activities. Bilingual/bicultural Academic Career Counselors provide outreach and recruitment, intake and assessment, individualized support (including career planning and portfolio development), linkage to academic and career fields, coordination with school teachers and counselors, and encourage parental engagement. The Academic Support Instructor holds a bachelor’s degree in education/social services; develops curricula and instructs courses that meet the academic needs of the young women enrolled in the program.
IRCO used several resource materials in the design of the pilot project model, which support the implementation of YWEP. The YWEP approach is based on empowering girls and women that have experienced gender, ethnic and/or racial biases. These biases may be perpetrated by their peers in school; gender biases may also occur within existing familial and cultural structures.
Refugee/immigrant African and Slavic women, ages 14 to 23 at intake, in the Portland metropolitan area.
IRCO was awarded a four-year, $756,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Women’s Educational Equity Association (WEEA) to implement YWEP. The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and the City of Portland/Portland Public Schools’ Summer Youth Employment Project provide supporting funds for the project by enhancing career development and funding internship opportunities, respectively, for project participants.
IRCO manages YWEP through its Youth Workforce Service Unit, linking academic achievement services to career development for young people. In addition, bilingual/bicultural Academic Career Counselors (2 FTE) have been recruited from the African and Russian communities, along with an Academic Support Instructor (.5 FTE) who holds a bachelor’s degree in education/social services.
YWEP’s goals are to increase the opportunity for equity in educational and career options for young women who experience multiple barriers, including gender, race, ethnic origin, and limited English proficiency, through academic achievement and career development. The academic achievement arm of the program is linked to classes taken in school, extended day activities, and academic summer programming. The career development effort links YWEP participants to internships, additional training, work experience, and mentors/role models in the math and science fields.
YWEP outcomes will support the following targeted Women’s Educational Equity Association (WEEA) GRPA (Government Performance and Results Act) performance measures: An increase in the number/percent of students who indicate increased knowledge of nontraditional career options in mathematics and science and plan to pursue these careers. An increase in the number/percent of students pursuing advanced courses in mathematics and science.
YWEP has started to gather the data for the following projected outcomes: 85% of participants will have increased awareness of math/science courses and fields of study. 80% of participants will be enrolled in math/science classes. 75% of participants will maintain a 3.0 or “B” grade GPA in all math/science classes attempted in the academic year of the reporting period. 75% of all participants will be placed in summer practicum, internships, job shadowing programs, and short-term employment related to math/science careers. 50% of participants will enroll in 2-4 year higher education institutions or vocational schools, with a focus to pursue math/science degrees or certification.
Each outcome is supported by a method of evaluation, provided through IRCO’s contract with Portland State University’s Child Welfare Partnership. Evaluators work closely with IRCO staff to implement program procedure connected to achievable benchmarks demonstrating best practices with the targeted populations. IRCO anticipates that these YWEP evaluation procedures will provide guidance about effective strategies for replication or testing in other settings because they rely on a mixture of easily measurable qualitative and quantitative outcomes similar to those IRCO has found to work well in other projects.
YWEP will build on IRCO’s experience as an agency focused on the nexus between academic achievement and career development. IRCO’s comprehensive plan for the YWEP services is built on several interlinked components including a) improving academic achievement particularly in math and science, b) connecting secondary and post-secondary educations to careers, c) supporting young women’s social development, and d) partnering with local schools and educational institutions to support culturally specific services.
Senior Service Unit Manager
YWEP began October 1, 2005. Performance period of the project extends to September 30, 2009.