Volunteer Spotlight: Taleya Pillai

Taleya Pillai
Taleya Pillai

Doctoral student working on campus as opportunity navigator

Taleya Pillai is a graduate student pursuing her Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration from St. Cloud State University. Taleya is also the newest member of the Center for Career Development and Community-Based Learning (CCD+CBL) at Inver Hills Community College.

Taleya serves in the role of an opportunity navigator through Minnesota Opportunity Corps, an AmeriCorps program that assists adults who are faced with multiple barriers to employment and economic self-sufficiency by helping them land rewarding jobs and guiding them to the training they need to realize their career goals.

She started her volunteer work at the CCD+CBL in November 2019; she will be on campus at Inver Hills until late September/early October 2020. She is located at the CCD+CBL main desk on the second floor of the College Center.

“Students should feel free to stop by or call the CCD+CBL [651-450-3683] to schedule an appointment with Taleya,” said Emily Johnson, director of career development. “She can help students search for employment opportunities, create a resume or cover letter, or run through a mock interview. Taleya has extended hours on Tuesdays until 6 p.m.”

More about Taleya…

Taleya’s professional career started at PwC, where she worked in the global mobility industry for three years assisting expatriates and foreign nationals with their individual tax returns. In this role, she was exposed to many different compensation packages that employers offered employees through their job assignments overseas or to the United States.

The exposure sparked her interest in workforce development because she noticed how employers who deem an employee as either essential to their operations, dedicated about their career path, or talented are willing to go the extra mile to work with them to be part of their team.

Taleya went back to school to pursue her master’s degree, which was a goal of hers since she was very young. After graduating, she worked for three years planning logistics for Urban Scholars, a 12-week leadership and professional development program offered by the Department of Civil Rights in the city of Minneapolis.

AmeriCorps Week • March 8–14, 2020

AmeriCorps Week, March 8–14, 2020, is a celebration of all things AmeriCorps—from the programs and organizations that make this national service initiative possible in communities across the country, to the members who have pledged to “Get Things Done” since the program’s inception in 1994.

Taleya left to join the U.S. Peace Corps, where she had a brief excursion to Armenia. She came back to the U.S. and joined Wallin Education Partners, an independent scholarship provider, first as an operations associate and eventually as a senior project manager for 3.5 years.

Her experience working with connecting students to internship opportunities and scholarships inspired her to shift her career into higher education. Her role as opportunity navigator at Inver Hills has been great experience for her career aspirations.

Taleya was born in Nebraska. She moved to Minnesota with her parents and younger brother in 1991. She graduated from Champlin Park High School in 2002 and relocated to Boston, Massachusetts, to complete both her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (B.S.B.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.) degree from Northeastern University.

In her spare time, she loves arranging flowers, being crafty and traveling. Taleya lives with her husband in Minneapolis.

More about Minnesota Opportunity Corps…¹

Help others navigate their career pathways to success and economic self-sustainability

Too many Minnesotans can’t make ends meet. The cost to meet the basic needs of a family of four in Hennepin County is approximately $100,000 annually, or $24.18 per hour for both adults working full-time.

AmeriCorps members, working as opportunity navigators, serve one year making a difference in the lives of others with multiple barriers to employment and economic self-sufficiency. Our goal is to ensure all Minnesotans are earning a living wage and become economically sustainable. With your help, we can make this goal a reality.

Opportunity Corps is a strategic partnership between Serve Minnesota, Reading & Math, Inc., and nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities metro area.


Taleya Pillai Q & A

Taleya Pillai
Taleya Pillai

Why did you choose to become an opportunity navigator?
I’ve known about the Corporation for National & Community Service and Peace Corps programs for a very long time. I actually trained in the U.S. Peace Corps for a few months in Artashat and Azatavan, two towns in Armenia, back in 2015. I decided not to swear in as a volunteer for the two years; however, the experience was still rewarding and increased my passion to serve others.

After my most recent professional experience in scholarship administration, I wanted to transition my career to a position at a college or university. A posting showed up for Inver Hills Community College, and I honestly felt the stars aligned—given where I am in life and how I see my future working in education. It was truly a great match!

What are your career goals and how do you see your years of service assisting in those goals?
I realized that early awareness in career direction and financial education is very important. Given my personal college and career experience, along with my professional experience in tax and scholarship administration, I realized that there were a lot of resources and tools available that weren’t necessarily being passed down to communities who could benefit the most from them.

I truly believe that everyone should have all that is needed to make an informed decision in both their career and personal finances; therefore, my short-term goal is to be in a position in higher education that will allow me to support that process. I’m not exactly sure what that position looks like just yet, but I’m definitely building my way up to being ready when it is discovered.

My long-term goal is building my own state-of-the-art innovation center. I’ve actually had this dream of creating an innovation center since I was 13 years old, and I’ve been slowly but surely putting it together since that time. I would say that the center is about 10 to 20 years from happening. To be quite honest, it has been hard to remain steady in this vision, but I’m still excited about putting it together.

My year of service at Inver Hills Community College is definitely stretching me in ways that are both enhancing my soft skills and helping me learn more about the collegiate environment. Emily Johnson, director of career development, and campus staff and faculty have been wonderful to work with in making sure that my experience at Inver Hills is welcoming, enriching and supportive.

Three words that describe you as a opportunity navigator:

What is something that has excited you about Inver Hills so far?
There is a level of care and attention here that is seen in many of the staff, faculty and students. I have seen Inver Hills staff and faculty go above and beyond to support students. Also, I have seen students very committed to their college and career paths and making sure that Inver Hills is a good fit for them.

What do college students need to know about finding the right job?
Informational interviews are a wonderful way to learn more about a job that you are interested in pursuing and a way to network. My experience working for the city of Minneapolis is proof that a conversation could potentially lead to a permanent job opportunity. I stayed persistent with getting in touch with a key city leader at the time to schedule an informational interview. It was rescheduled twice due to their schedule (waited for about two months), but I was able to finally connect and it landed me a contract position and eventually a permanent position.

Also, become a member of a professional association in your desired career. Many times you will get the latest information, discover networking opportunities, and receive scholarship opportunities available through the associations. Also, it will look great on your resume! Many associations have student membership rates or opportunities to join their activities or events for free. Since most professional associations are always seeking future generations of leadership and members, reach out to them and they will probably work with you.

What is something you wish you knew when you were completing your undergraduate degree?
There are A LOT of scholarships out there. Take the time to research and apply. Don’t discount the amount even if it only barely reduces your college expenses. There may be indirect benefits to becoming a scholarship recipient like networking opportunities, access to exclusive activities and events, and meeting people you would have never thought you would meet.

One word that describes your experience at Inver Hills:


More about CCD+CBL at Inver Hills…

Shannon Williams, Taleya Pillai, Emily Johnson
Shannon Williams, Taleya Pillai, Emily Johnson

The Center for Career Development and Community-Based Learning (CCD+CBL) builds careers and strengthens communities by engaging students in the lifelong process of career development and active citizenship.

We accomplish our mission by:
  1. Providing students and alumni with the skills and experiences they need to make a positive impact in today’s competitive labor market.
  2. Working in partnership with faculty on learning experiences inside and outside the classroom.
  3. Cultivating community partner relationships to develop more:
    • Volunteer opportunities
    • Service-learning projects
    • Academic internships
    • Off-campus employment

    Emily Johnson, director of career development, Shannon Williams, community-base learning coordinator, and Taleya Pillai, opportunity navigator, our CCD+CBL staff, would like to thank our many community and employer partners who make it possible to support our students in their academic and career journeys.


    Taleya Pillai 12 Answers

    1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Volleyball
    2. Place you would most like to visit: Belize
    3. The most exciting thing you’ve ever done: I have traveled to seven different countries
    4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Build the innovation center right away 2) Create a scholarship program 3) Make sure that my family is in a good place to fulfill their dreams
    5. Favorite TV show you’re watching now: The Office (second time around)
    6. Best movie you’ve seen lately: The Secret Life of Pets 1 and 2
    7. One thing you most want to accomplish in life: Build a legacy for future generations
    8. Dream occupation: Founder and CEO of the innovation center
    9. Person you would most like to meet: Sam and Sylva Simonian—they are the founders of Tumo Center for Creative Technologies; their program model is exactly how I see my innovation center running in the future.
    10. Skill you would most like to learn and master: Speak Malayalam and Armenian fluently to communicate with my newest relatives in Malayalam and go beyond my basic knowledge of the Armenian language.
    11. Your national bird if you were your own country: Macaw—it is such a colorful and vibrant parrot.
    12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Polarization and isolation; we are all on the same journey to discovering our purpose and building our legacy; therefore, we should always be open to connecting with one another regardless of how different we may look or be. Granted, I’m one of the quieter souls out there; so, my world is more active within; however, I live by the fact that you can’t judge a book by its cover (or even the introduction or chapter one). It may take time to get to know someone, but you never know how your connection with that person may evolve.
    Learn more about the Center for Career Development and Community-Based Learning (CCD+CBL) at Inver Hills by contacting:

    Emily Johnson
    Director of Career Development

    Shannon Williams
    Community-Based Learning Coordinator

    Taleya Pillai
    Opportunity Navigator

    College Center: Second Floor

    ¹ Courtesy of Minnesota Opportunity Corps

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