Reflections from Jalen Hwang

ANTH 395 students reflect on their engagement with “Our State, Our Work”

by Seok Hyun (Jalen) Hwang

September 18, 2023

I was introduced to Carolina Across 100 for the first time when I received an email detailing the course description for Anth 395 in Fall 2023. The email immediately captured my attention because I was eager to participate in projects that directly supported communities in North Carolina, and I saw it as an opportunity to do valuable work.  

In the Fall semester, I was paired with a student partner and together we collaborated with Wilson Forward (in Wilson County) to support their work in Carolina Across 100’s Our State, Our Work program. The program is focused on serving Opportunity Youth – young people who are 16 to 24 years old and who are not working or in school. Our main tasks included preparing a social media strategy and providing guidance on data collection for the organization. While my contribution to the team initiated important discussions of better ways to help opportunity youth, I was eager to build on the knowledge I had gained about working with this population.   Therefore, after my class ended in Fall, I continued my work with Carolina Across 100 by reenrolling in Anth 395 for my spring semester.  

This time, I was assigned to Team 10 which incorporates a total of nine counties including Carteret, Craven, Duplin, Greene, Jones, Lenoir, Onslow, Pamlico, and Wayne. While I was a bit worried at first because this has been a huge shift for me, I felt relieved after a warm welcome from the project manager, who would be our point of contact for the Eastern Carolina Workforce Development Board (ECWDB).  

What did we do? 

For the next semester, I immersed myself into these nine counties and was given a chance to explore various efforts they use to support opportunity youth. My partner and I worked closely with ECWDB, which is the designated administrative agent for Federal and State workforce development funds. It operates employment and training services in nine counties. One of the biggest challenges ECWDB has been facing was connecting young adults to the resources they acquired, and they hoped that we would be a bridge to connect with those individuals.  

Team 10 had a clear goal of reaching out to 2,000 individuals identified as opportunity youth by the year 2025. To help them reach this goal, my partner and I researched and created a listing of other organizations among the nine counties that work with opportunity youth. Additionally, we held multiple brainstorming sessions to identify other outreach strategies to reach opportunity youth populations.  

That task was especially interesting because it allowed us to consider the actual funding that ECWDB had available and offer input on how we can utilize it for outreach! Related to this, we also helped the team strategize around social media as tool for additional engagement and connection with youth populations in the region.   

What I learned and why it matters?  

Throughout the process, not only did I learn about the challenges opportunity youth (and the organizations who serve them) face, I had the opportunity to develop skills that will help me in my own work and life experiences, such as project management. I found that working as a team requires effective communication, critical thinking, and time management and that these components need to be valued and considered in order for successful project results. Although our team has maintained continuous contact and was kept busy with tasks, I could notice that my own desire to work and contribute decreased without steady contact or periodic check-ins.    

Summing it up 

CX100 gave me the opportunity to learn what goes on behind the scenes in important projects like these and to directly engage with and support community organizations. I have learned about opportunity youth and the importance of county organizations’ progress in achieving their goals. I would like to continue to put efforts into my current work in hopes that I can contribute to youth workforce problems. I believe our student influence on CX100 was valuable to the teams and the overall program effort. If you would like to continue this influential work in supporting opportunity youth among North Carolina counties, join NOW! 

Jalen Hwang participated with “Our State, Our Work” during their senior at UNC-Chapel Hill while majoring in Medical Anthropology and Biology.