Julia Miller at Goodwill-Easter Seals guides and inspires students
Originally from Tirana, a city of 419,000 that is both the capital and cultural center of Albania, Julia Miller arrived in the United States in 2006 with a wealth of international experience. Miller, 33, traveled throughout Europe and is fluent in four languages beyond her native Albanian—Italian, Greek, Spanish and English. In fact, she lived and worked in England for two years, long enough to pick up a thick British accent (which she has since updated with a more American accent).
“I lived in Newcastle,” Miller said, referring to the city in the county of Tyne and Wear on the north bank of the River Tyne. “I loved England.”
Miller studied at the University of New York in Tirana before coming to the U.S., where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Minnesota and then her Master of Arts in Organizational Management from Concordia University. She started working as a career navigator for Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota in 2012.
“Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota created the Career Navigator program in partnership with Inver Hills Community College to help our participants achieve their college goals and then find employment that sustains their families,” Miller said. “The new program is a free, individualized and flexible service that is designed to meet the specific needs of our participants.”
“The career navigator is a cheerleader, coach and mentor. You need to stay on top of employment trends and have a really good understanding of the academic world. You also need to be a great listener.” — Julia Miller, M.A.
Miller reported that her role as a career navigator has three main components. She assists participants with college navigation, which encompasses basically anything related to the higher education experience at Inver Hills, including programs, enrollment, financial aid, campus visits, student organizations and student services as well as introductions to faculty and staff.
She also makes sure participants take advantage of the plentiful resources offered through Goodwill-Easter Seals. ” As a career navigator, I work to get our participants connected with the resources that will eliminate barriers and allow them to focus on school and searching for a job,” Miller said. “Our aim is to achieve a balance between academics, career advancement and family obligations. Obstacles are typically linked to transportation, child care and housing.”
The third component, career development, involves helping participants forge strong resumes and job search techniques in concert with enhancing their professional image. Mock and informational interviews are integral to the process. “I also serve as a reference for prospective employers,” Miller said. “Participants realize early on that they need to establish a rapport with me. Strengthening our relationship helps give them the life and people skills they need to succeed in their future careers.”
Miller is working with more than 30 Inver Hills program participants even as she actively recruits more students for the program through visits to WorkForce Centers, libraries and various nonprofit agencies. Paula Brugge, director of outreach and recruitment at the college, welcomes the partnership with Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota and is delighted by the work Miller is doing. “Julia is a wonderful career navigator,” Brugge said. “She has the experience and knowledge to really make a difference in the lives of the students she assists.”
As Miller continues to build on her work as a career navigator, she is looking forward to her first wave of graduates. “Many of our participants believed they weren’t smart enough to attend college,” she said. “I encourage them to get their insecurities out in the open. We deal with barriers one at a time and celebrate every single accomplishment. And when a participant starts making progress, the gratitude they express is amazing. I know I am doing my job when they say, ‘I could never have done this without you.'”
Erin Roalson’s story…Erin Roalson, 24, of West St. Paul, played hockey and soccer at Henry Sibley High School, graduating in 2008. Erin first met with Julia Miller in fall 2012. Erin wished to learn more about career navigation services offered through the partnership between Goodwill-Easter Seals and Inver Hills. Erin and Julia toured the Inver Hills campus and met with key staff, including Paula Brugge, director of outreach and recruitment.
Erin had tried enrolling at another college before giving Inver Hills a shot, but the outcome was less than promising. “They threw me to the wolves,” Erin said. “College can be scary, but no one sat down with me or explained what I needed to do. Julia walked me around campus and answered my questions. She introduced me to everyone I needed to meet.”
“I was impressed by Erin’s level of professionalism and positive can-do attitude,” Julia said. “Erin started to enroll at the college, but made the difficult decision to put the process on hold and take the rest of the year off to care for her father, who suffered partial paralysis due to a stroke. In the meantime, even though she was not enrolled at Inver Hills, Erin stayed in touch with me.”
After her father started feeling better, Erin resumed the college enrollment process and is pursuing her A.S. degree in Contemporary Business. She is also working on her Project Management certificate and is earning As and Bs in her classes.
“Erin is doing an excellent job balancing work and personal life,” Julia said. “She is an excellent communicator and stays in regular contact with me, letting me know how her classes are going and discussing solutions to barriers that could affect her academics and professional goals. For example, Erin had invasive foot surgery at the end of January, but she did not let the pain and limited mobility hurt her schoolwork.”
Erin is applying what she’s learning in her business classes to take the next step in her career development. She is turning a passionate hobby into an established business. Erin hand-crafts jewelry from recycled materials and Alaskan glass. She has already assembled a sizable selection of beautiful and unique pieces.
“I was visiting my sister, Becky, in Kodiak, Alaska, when I had a really cool idea,” Erin said. “Becky lives by a beach that is a World War II dumping site. I found all kinds of interesting discarded materials that I knew could be made into jewelry. If I like what I see, I just run with it. Each piece comes with the back story that inspired its creation.”
The name of Erin’s business, Recycled History, blends her respect for environmentally friendly business practices and her love for integrating the wonders of history with the modern world.
“Erin is building a business plan using the knowledge she’s gaining from pursuing her degree,” Julia said. “Her next big project is working with me to incorporate her business with the state of Minnesota and turn her dream into a reality.”
“Julia and the Career Navigator program changed my life,” Erin said. “I would never have gone back to school without that extra guidance. Julia gave me the ability to take that first little step and now I can climb flights of stairs. Goodwill-Easter Seals and Inver Hills Community College have opened the door to my whole future.”
You can find Erin Roalson’s jewelry at Recycled History on Facebook.
Or, you can e-mail Erin at RecycledHistory2013.
About Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota
Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota works to build strong families and communities. The mission of Goodwill-Easter Seals is to assist people with barriers to education, employment and independence in achieving their goals. Goodwill-Easter Seals prepares people for work. Eighty-five percent of every dollar donated to support the Goodwill-Easter Seals mission goes directly toward helping people in Minnesota train for and find employment. For more information, visit: Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota.
To learn more about the Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota Career Navigator program at Inver Hills Community College, contact:
Julia Miller, M.A.
Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota