Crystal SmithThis month marks the 50th anniversary of the Talent Search program. Created by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Higher Education Act (HEA), it was established with the goal of seeing that “no American talent is wasted.” Cincinnati Youth Collaborative (CYC) is proud to have been vested with the honor of delivering this program to Greater Cincinnati families for more than 20 years and serving over 1,100 students annually. This month, CYC Talent Search Advisor shares why the program and her role in it is so important.

I’ve had the pleasure to serve as a Talent Search advisor at Woodward Career Technical High School for about 5 years now. It’s hard to believe that it has been that long because every new school year feels like a brand new adventure.

The thing that I love most about my job is that I get the opportunity to teach young people and expose them to things that they may have otherwise never seen or experienced. Believe it or not, I’ve had students who had never been to a college football game or inside a real college classroom. Often times, when I first begin to work with a student they are unaware of the vast possibilities of post-secondary education—they only know what they’ve seen on TV, heard in a movie, or learned through word of mouth.

It’s very easy for me to explain why I choose to stay in this position and why I haven’t grown tired of working with high school students. Quite simply, it’s because someone took the time to help me and advise me when I was a high school student. Although I was a good student, I had no idea how to get myself to the next level after graduation. Youth Advocates at Taft School were very similar to a Talent Search Advisor, and they assisted me. It brings me great joy to know that the cycle of giving has come full circle.

The Talent Search Program is unique in that it allows for students to get real-life experiences as opposed to only talking or reading about college and career possibilities. Campus visits, cultural activities, and visits to various community sites and businesses help our students “see themselves there,” which I believe is the first step required for them to ultimately “make it there.” 

When I first began as a Talent Search Advisor in 2010, I was astonished at how little traveling our students had done in their short lives. Due to this, I make it a point to discuss the various cities and states that we are visiting if we go outside of Cincinnati. This offers students another vantage point through which to see themselves, society, and the world. I have enjoyed taking Talent Search students to Atlanta, Georgia, where we visited iconic Spelman and Morehouse Colleges; we’ve visited Saint Louis, Missouri, where we visited historic Fisk and Tennessee State Universities and enjoyed wonderful cultural experiences such as visiting the thought-provoking Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky.  Talent Search students have the opportunity to visit local business sites as well as meet corporate administrators for the companies. Talent Search students participate in the Ohio Trio Student Leadership conferences held in Columbus, Ohio—the list goes on and on and on. We have changed lives by merely taking our students outside of the atmosphere that they are used to and nudging them, head first, into new ideas and experiences.

Spelman Tour 2
Students receiving a tour of historic Spelman College in 2014

Talent Search Advisors wear many hats and our students look at us as more than just college advisors; they come to trust us as a positive adult in their lives, one who cares about them and their future. For this reason, Talent Search Advisors become in some ways counselors, mentors, sergeants, life coaches, cheerleaders, connections to additional resources outside of Talent Search, cheerleaders, and second parents.

Very simply, the value that I see in impacting my students’ lives is just that: value in themselves and in their futures. Nothing is more rewarding to me than to see the light-bulb flicker on inside the eyes and mind of a student who had already been written off by society. Former students keep in touch with me and keep me abreast of both their successes and their challenges as they progress through their lives. This is how I know that the Talent Search program is both necessary and appreciated, and I’m glad to celebrate 50 wonderful years of Talent Search in high schools and colleges all over America!


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