Not every high school student knows exactly what they want to be when they are older, but Kymberly Rivera is already taking the steps to become a lawyer, with her mind set on criminal justice or on working with juveniles. She was drawn to the Third Space Thinking program because she wanted to gain the leadership skills to prepare herself for her future career. As a junior at the USC Hybrid High College Prep Academy, Kymberly is highly involved as a leader. She is the captain of her soccer team, a leader in her coding and robotics club, as well as a former participant in the mock trial team.
Through weekly modules, self-reflection activities on Padlet, online group activities with her 19 classmates, and a final project using the ACE-IT model to tackle a cause the students care about, Kymberly and her classmates strengthened their soft skills during the 10-week online program. The Third Space course, Developing Academic and Career Success Through Third Space Thinking, is designed to provide students with the core attributes that are needed, yet underrepresented in the job market: adaptability, cultural competency, empathy, intellectual curiosity, and 360-degree thinking.
While Kymberly has been exposed to soft skills in the past, the Third Space program gave her the opportunity to learn about, focus on and practice each of the core attributes.
Q: What expectations did you have for the program and why were you interested in it?
A: I was interested in joining because it seemed really professional, since it’s USC and that’s one of the schools I’m interested in and [the Third Space Youth course] focuses on leadership, which I need to improve my skills in.
Q: You’ve been learning about soft skills, but have you heard about soft skills before Third Space Thinking?
A: I have, in middle school. They called them IBM attributes, and they had introduced them to me, but not in a set framework like how you guys put it.
Q: Which ones did they focus on, and did you notice any similarities or differences to the core attributes we focus on in Third Space?
A: They were similar, but also different. They focused on caring, risk taking, and curiosity.
As she was able to learn about each of the Third Space core attributes, Kymberly started to reflect on how she practiced them in the past and how she will use them to her advantage in the future.
Q: How has adapting to Zoom been, not just in the program, but for school as well?
[In the beginning of the pandemic] we were super excited, oh two week break, but then now it’s like a roller coaster. Some days I’m super excited that I get to learn new things, or if i’m interested in the lessons that the teacher is presenting, but then there are some days, where I’m just like I don’t even want to go to class because, my mind, and my body are just not on the same page and it’s really hard.
A: Now that you know more about each of the soft skills, do you see how you’ve used some of them this past year or anytime in your life?
A: Yeah, I think right now we’re adapting to a new environment and learning new things as we go. We can say we’re curious, that we’re asking questions and just asking for help in general and learning new things. So I do see [how I’ve used soft skills] now that I know what they are and know what they mean.
Q: Out of the different soft skills you’ve learned about, which one do you think is your strongest?
A: Probably for me, like again, adapting to new environments. In every situation, there’s a different curveball thrown at us. I can be very adaptable, and I won’t complain-I mean I will complain a little- but I’ll adapt really quickly, and I feel like now that we learned what [adaptability] means, it really resonates with me now.
The Third Space core attributes are essential not just because they strengthen the students’ leadership skills for their personal success, but also because they allow them to become leaders in tackling the toughest challenges in today’s world. The students practice problem-solving through their final project, where they will work on an ACE-IT Cause and reflect on how each of the soft skills can help solve an issue they are passionate about.
Q: Which soft skills do you think are important for shaping the future and that more people should have?
A: Intellectual Curiosity. I feel like everyone should improve that more- this relates a lot to my final project. Our final project focuses on speaking up and being able to step out of your comfort zone. Now like everything that’s going on with racism, I feel like people need to start stepping out of their comfort zone and speaking up and just change what their normal is for them.
Q: Tell me a bit more about your ACE-IT Cause and your final project.
A: My group and I decided on “cancel culture” and how that affects people. So, right now we wanted to cancel “cancel culture”. There’s some type of “cancel culture” that we like- using it for justice and awareness. That’s the type of “cancel culture” we want, and to bring awareness to people that did make mistakes and hold them accountable, but then there’s some cancel culture that judges them based on the shoes they wear or how they speak, and that is the type of cancel culture young people see a lot on Twitter and Instagram. So we decided to come up with a plan to improve those social media [platforms] to make it a safe environment for everyone.
Q: Without the Third Space program, do you think you would have gotten the opportunity to delve into issues like these?
A: I honestly don’t [think so] because if it weren’t for this program I honestly feel like we would have just tolerated it and not actually dive deeper into the problem, so I feel like this program really has helped with just opening everybody’s eyes and giving a different perspective on things.
Even though Kymberly would like to step into the law field, she is open to exploring her future career plans. Wherever college takes her, she will have the leadership skills for success.
Q: What are your plans for after graduation?
A: I took this program to improve my leadership skills, because I feel like when you’re a lawyer, you have to have that confidence and that leadership and take on a lot of tasks. A few of the colleges I’m interested in are USC and Cal State Northridge because they (Northridge) have a program where you get to do three year’s bachelor’s and then three years of law school.
Q: Do you think there are any particular soft skills that are especially important for lawyers to have?
A: Yeah, all of them [are needed] when becoming a lawyer, because you have to be adaptable if someone else on the other side of the case and your opponent throws a curveball at you, you have to be adaptable and think of something else. Then, you have to be intellectually curious because you have to understand your client, you have to understand where they’re coming from and you have to be open. Say you’re on the defendant’s side- you have to be open to saying Okay, he might be innocent or she might be innocent. You have to have 360 degree thinking. You have to be aware of every single detail that’s in your case and every single detail that your opponent might say. I feel like every single part of the basic framework you need when becoming a lawyer.
Kymberly Rivera is one of the 20 students in Hybrid High College Prep who participated in the virtual Third Space Thinking course. In June, more than 180 high school students in the Migrant Education Program in Los Angeles County and Riverside County will join us virtually to strengthen their soft skills for college and career readiness and solving social issues of their own.
To learn more, visit https://uscthirdspace.com/home-2/youth-institute/.