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Career and Life Prep Academy: Helping Underserved Students Achieve Greatness

Career And Life Prep Academy: Helping Underserved Students Achieve Greatness

Local companies are stepping up to share valuable insights and skills that will help underserved OC students succeed in career and life.

The focus, drive, and eagerness to learn were immediately apparent from the students in the room. This group of high schoolers had chosen to spend three weeks of their summer vacations attending a Career and Life Prep Academy. While many seemed a bit shy at first, they were ready to step out of their comfort zones.

Liz Hill, Originations Learning Manager, and Elena Sequeira, Sr. Principal, Learning & Development, both from Mr. Cooper Group, certainly weren’t sure what to expect when they agreed to be guest speakers for Orange County United Way’s Youth Career Connections Career and Life Prep Academy, but they were excited about the idea of helping prepare local youth for life after high school.

It is so gratifying to help students take steps that will prepare them for their futures, —Liz Hill, Originations Learning Manager, Mr. Cooper Group

Liz Hill, Originations Learning Manager, and Elena Sequeira, Sr. Principal, Learning & Development, both from Mr. Cooper Group

Elena Sequeira and Liz Hill of Mr. Cooper Group

Liz and Elena were pleasantly surprised by how disciplined and determined the students were. “I am impressed by how much commitment and drive these students have to be a part of this program,” said Liz. “What a great way to start to practice skills that school doesn’t prepare you with—that type of life application is so impactful at that age.”

Consisting of 35 students from underserved Orange County districts, the three-week Career and Life Prep Academy, which is part of Orange County United Way’s United for Student Success℠ initiative, gave participants the opportunity to hear from various local professionals who shared valuable career and life skills to help set students up for success. Speakers also talked about their own experiences and the paths they took on their personal career journeys.

Some of the topics discussed during the Career and Life Prep Academy included:

  • Professional Etiquette
  • Cover Letters and Resumes
  • Financial Literacy: Income, Benefits, and Taxes
  • Financial Planning: Spending, Budgeting, and Saving
  • Communication Skills, First Impressions, and Email Etiquette
  • Networking and Meaningful Connections
  • Mindfulness, Meditation, and Stress Management

This academy has helped with my self-confidence and my time management skills. I am proud to say that I am able to attend an interview prepared, thanks to this very supportive program. —Cailyn Tran, Bolsa Grande High School

Students also went on two local site visits to explore potential work environments and participated in mock interview sessions conducted by United Way volunteers from partnering local companies who provided constructive feedback. And to top it all off, each student received a $450 scholarship upon completion of the academy.

Not only does this program help students on their career journey, it provides social skills they will use in their personal lives as well. —Elena Sequeira, Sr. Principal, Learning & Development, Mr. Cooper Group

Liz and Elena presented twice during the Career and Life Prep Academy and covered various aspects of professionalism, interviewing techniques, cover letters, resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and more. Recognizing that the younger generation is learning and doing things differently, one of the assignments they gave students was to set up a professional voicemail message (after learning that no one had their voicemail set up). “They really took it seriously—I wasn’t expecting that,” said Elena. “They were taking notes and asking a lot of questions, and utilizing the skills we had given them. It was really exciting to see how much they grew in a day. They really owned their education.”

Liz Hill, Originations Learning Manager, Mr. Cooper Group

Liz Hill of Mr. Cooper Group

The opportunity to have a program that actually utilizes real life skills is one of the most valuable things that I can think of as a young professional looking to get into any sort of career and have a leg up in an industry that doesn’t necessarily have a rule book. —Liz Hill

The experience ended up being far more rewarding than both Elena and Liz had anticipated. “I really felt like we made an impact,” said Elena. They were also pleased to discover that they were able to utilize training tools that already existed at Mr. Cooper when preparing their presentations. And they encourage other companies to do the same. “You may have training tools and resources that you can leverage or repurpose to help students,” said Liz. “And it’s worthwhile to get involved with programs like this because they truly help set students up for very bright futures.”

Empowered by Orange County United Way’s United for Student Success℠ initiative, Youth Career Connections is an integrated work-based learning program that infuses classroom learning with real-world career experiences. In addition to the Career and Life Prep Academy, Youth Career Connections offers workplace mentorships, industry site visits, career speaker sessions, and more to ensure local underserved students have the resources necessary to succeed in school and beyond.

Thank you to all of the speakers who presented at the 2022 Career and Life Prep Academy:

  • Ido Dotan, Banc of California
  • Ila Gomez, Banc of California
  • Hilary Streeter, Banc of California
  • Jessica Juarez, Cal State Fullerton
  • Cayce Howe, UCI Health
  • Donald White, Edwards Lifesciences
  • Rakesh Tripathi, Edwards Lifesciences
  • Candy Zhang, Edwards Lifesciences
  • Viki Johnston, Exelorate
  • Liz Hill, Mr. Cooper
  • Elena Sequeira, Mr. Cooper

And thank you to Johnson & Johnson and Alcon for hosting site visits for our students!

Want to support student success in OC?

If you would like to support local students, we encourage you to:

Learn More About Youth Career Connections


Donate to Support Our Programs and Services


Contact Yahaira Ortiz at YahairaO@UnitedWayOC.org or 949.263.6142 with questions or to learn how your company can partner with us to offer exciting opportunities like these for local students.

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