Future Leaders Project aims to ‘help cultivate diverse leaders for our growing community’

The FLP is an initiative of Workforce SW Washington, CREDC and Washington State University Vancouver

Future Leaders Project
Mandipa Masike completed a Future Leaders Project internship with Workforce Southwest Washington during the summer of 2021. She now currently works as a bilingual outreach coordinator with YWCA Clark County and helps coordinate the ACT-SO program with NAACP Vancouver. Courtesy of Workforce Southwest Washington

When Armando “Mando” Antonino first read the description for the Future Leaders Project (FLP) back in 2021 during his junior year at Washington State University Vancouver, he said he immediately felt empowered to apply and got to work creating a resume and cover letter. Antonino was selected to move forward in the FLP process shortly after applying and got an interview at PointNorth as a communications intern. Antonino said he was able to use campus resources such as a mock interview to help prepare him for his first professional interview. The interview was successful and Antonio began working as a communications intern at PointNorth during the summer of 2021.

“Being a first-generation career professional, I had very little knowledge about professional environments or what career pathways I could explore using my degree and talents,” Antonio said.

The FLP – an initiative of Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW), the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) and Washington State University Vancouver (WSU Vancouver) – aims to help cultivate diverse leaders for the growing community, according to Nolan Yaws-Gonzalez, senior project manager at WSW.

“FLP places WSU Vancouver students from historically underrepresented communities and first-generation college students into employer sponsored summer internships,” Yaws-Gonzalez said. “Each employer who hosts a Future Leaders intern commits to providing mentorship/coaching, access to leadership, and networking and professional development opportunities to help their interns develop social capital and grow as professionals.”

Antonino, who majored in integrated strategic communications with a minor in digital technology and culture and also obtained a certificate in social media, said that after he started working as an intern at PointNorth, he quickly discovered new aspects of consulting, communications, community engagement, strategic planning and facilitation that he never knew existed. Antonio completed his internship and went on to be hired as a program manager with WSW, a role he currently works in.

Future Leaders Project
Armando “Mando” Antonino worked as a communications intern at PointNorth during the summer of 2021 after applying for and going through the process of the Future Leaders Project. Courtesy of Armando “Mando” Antonino

“The top skills that have supported me in my new role include … conducting research, facilitating groups, and creating strategic initiatives or goals for other businesses and organizations during my time at PointNorth,” Antonino said. “Having this opportunity demystified what a professional career was and gave me valuable experience and connections that have helped me become successful post-graduation.”

Since the FLP program began in 2020, Yaws-Gonzalez said 12 organizations have hosted a total of 19 interns over the course of three summers. He said hosting FLP interns can provide businesses with numerous benefits, including:

  • New ideas and fresh perspective, as interns bring enthusiasm and diverse points of view
  • Much needed support for projects that employees otherwise might not have the time to complete
  • Proven, cost-effective way to recruit and evaluate potential permanent employees
  • Opportunities for staff to again supervisory skills through mentoring and managing interns
  • Effective public relations ambassadors, as interns often help increase the visibility of their host organization on campus and with their peers and family members
  • Opportunities to promote community involvement and demonstrate the organization’s commitment to workforce development – which is an excellent public relations tool

One of the local businesses that has been participating in the FLP by hosting interns is the Port of Vancouver USA. Mike Bomar, director of economic development at the Port, said they originally only intended to bring on one intern through the program, they were so impressed with the quality and drive of the students in the interview process that they decided to bring on two. He said the students both worked on economic development, with one focusing on human resources and the other on environmental initiatives.

“The focus on first-generation and underrepresented students is in line with our values,” Bomar said. “Additionally, the program gives interns the opportunities to network with executive decision makers, which is critical for students to understand what they do and allows them to envision themselves in these roles. We’re excited to participate again and continue to play a part in shaping future leaders. We very much appreciate the efforts of Washington State University Vancouver, Workforce Southwest Washington, and the Columbia River Economic Development Council in collaborating here to help both employers and the incoming workforce see a brighter future in Clark County.”

“The Port of Vancouver is committed to advancing the emerging workforce’s understanding of both the impact that our operations have both locally and globally, as well as the variety of great jobs that exist in the port and maritime industry,” Bomar said. “We have a strategic initiative to connect with our K-12, community college and higher education institutions to help students better understand career pathways and make early connections in the industry. The Future Leaders Project launch was a great success in these regards.”

Yaws-Gonzalez said they anticipate summer 2023 will be the FLP program’s biggest year yet, thanks in part to the funding the Future Leaders Project received from the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, which he said will allow them to subsidize the cost of hosting a Future Leaders intern for a limited number of nonprofit organizations and/or BIPOC-owned, woman-owned, LGBTQ+-owned and/or veteran-owned businesses.

“The Future Leaders Project (FLP) was developed for several reasons,” said Miriam Halliday, CEO of WSW. “Companies are more competitive when they employ individuals who have a diversity of thought, ability, race and gender. Also, women and individuals from historically underrepresented communities often don’t have many economic and social opportunities. One FLP goal is to help interns develop social capital and build a professional network by placing them with companies that are committed to equity, diversity, inclusion and career pathway development.”

“The internships create economic opportunity for students who are close to graduation,” Halliday said. “From an economic development standpoint, we want to maintain this talent in our region, so they are not looking for employment elsewhere.”

Business interested in learning more about the FLP program and hosting interns should contact Yaws-Gonzalez at nyaws-gonzalez@workforcesw.org or at 360-567-1066.

Joanna Yorke-Payne
Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start ClarkCountyToday.com.

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