By Mai P. Tran, ECMC Foundation
This feature is part of a three-part series. Read the full series here.
Melanie, who once took pride in winning neighborhood fights as a teen, now wants to return to the same community to help and empower at-risk youth. Earlier this summer, she hit the road with Roadtrip Nation to discover how to reach her career goals. We spoke to her to learn more:
Melanie Scott, 24, recently spent twenty-three of her sunny summer days traveling cross-country with two strangers in an RV. She visited multiple states and received guidance and nuggets of wisdom from industry leaders who started their education at community colleges.
Currently a community college student, Scott is from a tough Brooklyn community where gang activity, violence and drug use are common, and there is little focus on education for many K-12 students. Growing up, she adopted "street smarts" to survive. "Winning fights was my first priority, not school," she says. After high school, she followed the neighborhood trend of not going to college and went straight into the workforce.
Though she excelled at her jobs in the retail and food industries, as time passed, Scott felt "incomplete and unfulfilled." She wanted to pursue her true career goals: working with and empowering youth in her community, who often lack positive role models in career and education.
A year ago, Scott made the life-changing decision to enroll into Queensborough Community College. From the start, she searched for support from like-minded peers who share similar career interests but didn't have much luck. "I want to become an activist, but it's not common," she says. Without guidance or help from her community, Scott began to question her career choice.
Looking for the right inspiration and drive to continue growing in community college, she turned to Roadtrip Nation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping young people find career and life fulfillment by placing them on themed roadtrips to discover their career goals. Scott had always been a fan of the Roadtrip Nation's documentaries, which air on public television, and applied as soon as she found out about the Community College Roadtrip. She joined two other students, who were selected through a rigorous application process.
Funded and fueled by ECMC Foundation, Roadtrip Nation's Community College Roadtrip was launched to help prospective, current and recently graduated community college students gain exposure to how community college can help them discover and pursue their career goals. During the trip, students met with and asked for advice from diverse industry leaders who began their careers by starting at a community college.
Luckily for Scott, there was one particular leader – Ron His Horse Is Thunder, former tribal chairman of Standing Rock Reservation and president of Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, North Dakota – who delivered exactly the dose of inspiration she needed.
Scott saw His Horse is Thunder as the role model she had been looking for. An embodiment of the activist whom Scott aspires to be, he led his tribal community through the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline and regularly motivates and empowers those around him. "His wisdom blew me away," she shares. "He's everything I want to be." His Horse is Thunder inspired Scott to take pride in her culture and encouraged her to learn as much as she could about the people who came before her. Scott took this wisdom to heart, no longer feeling alone in her career aspiration.
Scott returned home from the trip with confidence and determination to forge the next steps for her career. "Roadtrip Nation put me in this mindset where I need to start taking my passion and hobbies seriously and find those organizations that have the same vision as mine. Because of this road trip, I want to start applying for internships." Scott hopes to transfer to a four-year college and find a career where she can be a positive role model and advocate for youth in her community. She also plans to further her education at a four-year university.