Landing the Job: West Hills Partnerships Help Employment Become a Reality for Students

Partnerships.West Hills Community College District is a part of many of them, all aimed at increasing student success.

Two of these partnerships have already had an impact on students: Bitwise’s Geekwise Academy and The Wonderful Company’s Ag Career Prep program and Agriculture Career Camp.

Bitwise is in the middle of its third cohort of students while, last year, The Wonderful Ag Career Prep program saw its first group of students graduate from high school and West Hills College Coalinga simultaneously. Both partnerships have begun to bear fruit in several different ways and students are seeing the benefits.
West Hills College Coalinga and The Wonderful Company have been partners since 2013. 
The first Wonderful Agriculture Career Camp was held at West Hills College Coalinga in 2013. Through this camp and the more extensive world of Wonderful Education, students start down a career path in agriculture as early as middle school. Students from Avenal and Mendota middle schools attend the camp and learn hands on skills in agriculture, ranging from learning about welding to hands on plant science projects. Students then have an opportunity to apply for the Wonderful Agriculture Career Prep program in 9th grade. In the program, they are able to learn more about agriculture career fields, participate in job shadowing and take West Hills College Coalinga classes.
Last May, WHCC graduated its first cohort of Wonderful Ag Career Prep students, who earned an Associate's degree at the same time they graduated from high school. This May, WHCC will graduate its 2nd class, from Avenal High School. More than 30 students will earn their Associate's. The first class from Mendota will graduate in spring 2020.

Esther Olmos is one of the graduates from the first cohort and, for her, the Ag Prep academy was life changing.

Olmos was one of the first students to attend the Agriculture Career Camp and is now attending Fresno State, studying social work.

Beyond just seeing the effect that getting her first two years of college out of the way has had on her academic schedule, she also someday hopes to return to Avenal and bolster the work the Agriculture Prep Academy is doing for students there.
“When I first joined the program, I didn’t know if it was right for me,” she said. “Did I want the pressure? I didn’t want to go into agriculture. But it ended up being amazing for me. I hope to become a social worker now so that I can go back to Avenal and promote this wonderful program. It’s not just a degree and it’s not just about agriculture. It gives you the basics you need to succeed in college and I want more students to take advantage of it.”
Now, thanks to a recently received California CCAP STEM Pathway Academy Grant, the program will continue to grow and in a way that will help increase employment opportunities for graduates of the program.

Through this grant and existing partnership between The Wonderful Company and West Hills College Coalinga, new apprenticeship pathways will be available at Avenal and Mendota High Schools targeting students, who may ultimately wish to fast-track their career with a high-paying Ag job right out of high school.
These students will earn their associate’s degree, but over a six-year period with extensive work experience including a two-year work rotation at multiple Wonderful Company business units.

“Wonderful Ag Prep provides real-world learning experiences that prepare our students for the high-tech jobs of the future,” said Noemi Donoso, executive vice president of Wonderful Education at The Wonderful Company. “It’s a game-changer to arm high school graduates with real-world work experience and an associate of science degree. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with great schools such as West Hills College Coalinga and use this grant funding to further expand upon this important work.”
West Hills has partnered with Bitwise since 2016.

Bitwise is another program that is helping students to connect with real world job opportunities. As part of that partnership, students from both WHCC and WHCL have participated in Bitwise’s Geekwise Academy. As part of the Academy, the students learn computer programming languages including AngularJS and MEAN Stack and how to build websites and mobile apps. They also get tips on how to freelance in the tech industry and how to land a job and work on actual projects for Bitwise, including web development.

The first phase of the Geekwise Academy partnership began in Fall 2016 with 20 students total. The second cohort started off with 30 students approximately. The third cohort is currently learning how to freelance.
“They currently have about $10k in prospective projects in the pipeline, said Bethany Mily, Geekwise Academy CEO.

“Across the last two cohorts, students have developed and delivered more than $100,000 in projects for clients. This partnership and West Hills web development cohorts are important because West Hills students represent a group of people that have been historically underrepresented in the technology industry. Through programs that target important populations in our region, we have the opportunity to help create a technology industry that is representative of the Valley's population. The freelancing phase of our programs is particularly important because freelancing allows individuals to work on projects from anywhere in the world. Individuals in Coalinga, Firebaugh and Lemoore can live in the place they call home and still access the high wage, high growth opportunities offered by the technology industry.”
Carlos Flores knows the opportunity firsthand. He graduated from the Bitwise program in 2017 and is now studying computer science at Fresno State. In addition, he’s helping West Hills College Coalinga develop an e-sports competition team, students who compete in online sports.

“Bitwise was great career wise,” he said. “It convinced me to switch to computer science. Because of the program it opened my eyes to the tech field and that’s what made me switch majors. Now, I know what I want to do for
my career.”