University awarded $2.8 million in grants to help VITAL program

Kennedy Lum, Reporter

California Lutheran University was awarded a five-year grant worth $2.8 million in funds to develop the new Vocational Identity and Talent in Academic Learning program. The VITAL grant team plans to officially launch the program during fall 2023. 

In 2016, Cal Lutheran was named a Hispanic Serving Institution, with over 25% of students identifying as Latinx. As an HSI institution, Cal Lutheran established the VITAL program in order to help marginalized students expand their professional careers through on-campus employment and internships. 

Maria Thayer, HSI director and first-generation college graduate, said as a first-generation student, post-graduation there was a hardship when it came to networking and finding employment because neither of her parents worked in a professional setting. She also said she wished to provide useful work experience for first-generation students.

“I interviewed students who were going to school here, and a lot of what I found through those interviews and focus groups is that a lot of students, especially first-gen low-income students, are working really hard here at school. Then they have like two or three jobs outside of school just trying to pay for their tuition, rent or just trying to eat,” Thayer said. “One goal from this grant is that we want to make sure that if students want to work we can offer them a job that will expose them to actual experiences that they can use.”

Thayer said one of the objectives for the VITAL program is to provide mentorship to students while they find their vocation as well as meaningfully contribute to the Cal Lutheran community.

“A difficulty that many students face in college is changing their major because they don’t know what they want to do with their life,” Thayer said. “The program will give students more direction and help them explore different vocational avenues.” 

Similarly to Thayer, Angela Naginey, executive director of Student Success, had the responsibility of gathering data on students participating in internships.

“I played a piece in gathering some of the data on the number of students who do internships and seeing if there are any gaps in the data for students of color…and I found that there are gaps,” Naginey said.

Naginey said another goal of the VITAL program is to provide faculty with the necessary resources to guide students on their career paths, as well as equip students with professional work experience.

“What we hope to accomplish is helping students work towards understanding how their academic coursework and classes tie into their future career work,” Naginey said.

Lauren Causey, executive director for the office of sponsored research and projects, was the foreman in overseeing Cal Lutheran’s grant initiatives. Causey said she and her team were able to create a strategic plan that demonstrates Lutheran values and promotes HSI principles. Causey also said the main part of the plan is to support marginalized students in their career endeavors and her strong conviction in the VITAL program was the driving force in securing the grant funds. 

“There were 78 new projects that were funded this cycle and 186 institutions that applied, it was very competitive,” Causey said.

Causey said not only does the grant money affect students, but it impacts faculty as well, since one of the main objectives is to open a dialogue between faculty and students about the nuances of the professional world.

According to a press release from Linda Martinez, university editor for University Marketing, other plans for the grant money include providing financial literacy workshops and free online financial literacy help; offering online learning options and more.