Gates Foundation grant to help advance work on college-to-workforce transitions

Mindi Thompson and Matthew Hora, co-directors of the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions (CCWT) at UW–Madison, have received an $838,959 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance a number of projects aimed at bolstering the field of higher education’s understanding of students’ college-to-career transitions.

Thompson is a professor in the School of Education’s Department of Counseling Psychology. Hora is an associate professor with the Division of Continuing Studies and the School’s Department of Educational Policy Studies. CCWT is housed in the Division of Continuing Studies and is in its fifth year of operations

Mindi Thompson and Matthew Hora
Mindi Thompson (left) and Matthew Hora

“I am so grateful for the opportunities that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has provided to allow the CCWT to further our mission to develop research tools, evidence, and educational programs that promote the career development and wellness of students as they seek post-graduate success,” says Thompson. “This support will fuel our capacity to amplify the voices and interests of all students, especially those historically marginalized in higher education, with the ultimate aim to facilitate institutional and societal change.”

“It’s been an exceptionally challenging last two years on a variety of fronts, but I’m so grateful to our colleagues at the Gates Foundation, the Division of Continuing Studies, and Dr. Mindi Thompson for helping our center to continue this critical work,” adds Hora.

Hora says the new grant funding will be used to support five applied research projects designed to provide data, research tools, and technical assistance to colleges and universities in the Gates Foundation’s national networks, especially Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).

Nidia Bañuelos and Ross Benbow
Nidia Bañuelos (left) and Ross Benbow

One is the The Networks and Cultural Assets (NACA) project, which works to study what researchers are calling the “Community Cultural Wealth” of college students of color. This work is done in collaboration with Nidia Bañuelos, an assistant professor of adult, continuing, and higher education in the Division of Continuing Studies; Ross Benbow, a researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER); and colleagues at the University of Texas system. NACA also recently received an NSF Racial Equity grant to support these efforts.

“Funding from the Gates Foundation allowed us to develop quantitative measures of ‘Community Cultural Wealth’ — a framework that is typically used in qualitative work on the assets students of color bring to their education,” says Bañuelo. “We think there is a lot of value in designing surveys that measure the enormous strengths students of color gain from their families, communities, cultures, and experiences.” 

“The Gates Foundation funding is important because it allows us to focus on the social and cultural strengths marginalized undergraduates bring to campus; strengths that have typically been discounted or ignored in colleges and universities,” Benbow says. 

The Gates Foundation grant will also benefit CCWT’s College Internship Study and National Survey of College Internships (NSCI) initiatives, which lead the nation in empirical research on the prevalence, quality, and accessibility of internships in higher education.

Pa Her
Pa Her

Additionally, the new grant will help fund Tuned In Labs, which is led by Thompson and Pa Her, a clinical assistant professor in the School of Education’s Department of Counseling Psychology. Tuned In Labs supports the career development and well-being of students of color by holding student-facilitated workshops, developing toolkits and facilitator manuals, and conducting literature reviews on the state of mental health issues in higher education.

“There is not enough attention on these students’ career development or wellness,” Her says. “Thus, I was thrilled to see CCWT centering these students’ needs in an uplifting and empowering way.”

The Gates Foundation funding will also support new CCWT research projects, including a study exploring how career advising and faculty professional development activities are addressing the climate emergency. Another study will look at institutional strategies for embedding career readiness across the curriculum. Hora will lead both projects.  

CCWT will host its first CCWT conference on March 29, 2023. More information about the center and its work is available here

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