By Kelly Youngblood
A group of Champaign-Urbana professionals are working together to help area youth make their career dreams come true.
CU Dream Chasers is a recently formed organization whose goal is to expose students to a variety of career opportunities. The group is doing this by bringing local professionals into schools to talk about their personal career experiences.
“One great way to learn about the plethora of different career paths is to learn from someone with firsthand experience,” said Joshua Hinds, a Commercial Underwriter for Busey Bank in Champaign and one of the founding members of CU Dream Chasers.
Hinds, along with four other local individuals (who are also members of the United Way’s Emerging Leaders Program), started CU Dream Chasers last fall with one goal in mind- to help students in the area of career readiness.
The group felt working with students and helping them prepare for life after high school was a very valuable cause. “It is imperative that we as a community invest in the education of our future leaders,” said Hinds.
In addition to Hinds, the group includes Kelli Anderson, Jennifer Milazzo, Tony Howard and Stephanie Stuart.
Howard, who is an associate principal at Edison Middle School, agrees the mission of CU Dream Chasers is a worthwhile one. Growing up in East St. Louis, Howard says he wished he’d been exposed to a similar opportunity when he was in school.
“It just opens up endless opportunities for our students,” Howard said.
According to members of CU Dream Chasers, it’s not just the students who benefit from the program. It’s also a way for professionals to get involved and give something back to the community.
After conducting some initial career assessments last fall at Edison Middle School, the group is now trying to recruit more willing volunteers to participate.
They currently have about 20-30 professionals committed to the program but would like to see that number reach at least 100.
Career professionals in any field are welcome to participate in the program (a college degree is not a requirement). The main qualification is that they need to be passionate about their careers and willing to talk to local youth about their jobs.
Stuart, who is also the Public Information Officer/Community Relations Coordinator for Champaign Unit 4 Schools, says volunteers could really impact a student’s life by sharing their personal story.
Stuart said one professional spoke to a class about his banking career, noting some students may have never considered that career until they heard about what it really entails.
Once students learned a career in banking could involve helping start up a business or company, Stuart said the students became really engaged in learning more about the work he was doing.
CU Dream Chasers is still in the early stages of planning but they do intend to reach out more to teachers this fall. Their hope is that the program can be an additional educational resource for teachers and school districts in the area.
The program is open to all schools and grades throughout Champaign County.
The CU Dream Chasers website is where interested volunteers can go to sign up to be a speaker. It’s also where teachers can go to see which career professionals are available to present in the classroom.
Stuart said CU Dream Chasers would not be possible without the United Way and its Emerging Leaders program.
“The program they put on is a really fantastic program,” she said.