Jennifer Novo, executive director of FUTURO, shares about her efforts to equip Latino college students to thrive in the workplace.
Like many first-generation Americans, Jennifer Novo saw college as a pathway to a better future for her family, but she also faced unique challenges. Those experiences shaped Novo’s passion for helping Latino students succeed in college and in the workforce, which she’s doing today as the executive director of FUTURO.
“Our students know what the alternative is. They know that if they don’t get an education, they’re probably going to end up in an entry level or low wage or minimum wage job, and they have a lot of pressure from their families to be successful,” Novo shared.
In this episode of Speak Up for Equity, Tennessee Diversity Consortium Executive Director Robert Lawrence Wilson talks with Novo about FUTURO’s approach to college success and career readiness. She also discusses the importance of diversity in the workforce and explains how people can support FUTURO as they seek to broaden their impact.
Minimizing the Barriers to College Success
Novo understands from experience that many Latino, immigrant, and first-generation college students are misunderstood by their professors and administrators.
For example, students who live off campus with their families may struggle to meet with study groups or get to class on time, which can in turn affect their grades. Parent buy-in is also uniquely important for many of these students, especially when it comes to things like staying late for a meeting or joining extracurriculars.
“About 80% of [FUTURO’s students] identify as either first-generation American or immigrant,” Novo explained. “The success of their family plays very heavily on them, and they take their roles very seriously.”
With this in mind, FUTURO makes an intentional effort to support all types of students, including older students, commuters, parents, and people who work demanding jobs. They even offer the Aspire chapter for students who are not currently enrolled in college.
Novo also recognizes that it’s vital for students to have mentors who can talk to them about their career goals and help them prepare for the workforce. It’s something she missed out on during her own time in college.
“Nobody pulled me aside and said ‘Jennifer, you’re really good with people. You have a special skill in this path and you’re very passionate about advocacy work and education. Have you considered a path in education?” she shared.
Setting Students Up for Success
FUTURO offers a variety of programs, each with the goal of helping students lead, serve, and connect. These include leadership training, career readiness activities, and the FUTURO Select 100 (an honor given to students who earn the most points by working on different professional development tasks).
“Those are things like working on your resume, understanding the importance of service leadership, getting involved on campus. We’re essentially a club on campus, but it’s led by the students,” Novo explained. “They learn through trial and error, they learn things like teamwork, budgeting, event planning.”
Not only do these soft skills transfer to almost any career students may choose to pursue, but FUTURO also looks great on a resume.
“When I talk to employers about FUTURO, they’re excited to get involved with our leaders, because they know that they’re going to recruit diverse talent that is really ahead of the game, that has intentionally been working on their professional development,” Novo shared.
Growing FUTURO’s Reach with Community Partnerships
Since it started in 2011, FUTURO has graduated over 600 students in Middle Tennessee, 80% of whom identify as Hispanic or Latino. Novo is excited to continue this work, but she also hopes to expand the organization to a national scale.
To do so will require support from community partners and continued advocacy from former FUTURO students.
“Our students are now teachers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, they are working in industries, and owning their own businesses. We even have our own students and our alumni who are now serving on our own board alongside us,” Novo shared. “10 years from now, I’d love to see our current students advocating for our program with their employers.”
“I’d love to see our students, then alumni, really have a seat at the table where decisions are being made in every aspect of our community: in government, in civil service, in medicine, in technology, in all aspects.”
To learn more about the ways you can get involved with the Tennessee Diversity Consortium, visit tennesseediversityconsortium.org/join-tdc. And be sure to subscribe to Speak Up for Equity wherever you listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode.