Lifting Educational and Career Barriers for Hispanic Youth

By Denise Ocampo

Barriers to Career Success
Hispanic individuals are expected to make up one fourth of the total United States population by 2050. At present, they are both overrepresented in occupations that are low paying and underrepresented in occupations that are high paying. As of 2015, high school graduation rates for Hispanics were 77.8% (Fact Sheet, 2016) and as of 2014, only 15% of those between the ages of 25-29 were college graduates (Krogstad, 2016), which may contribute to the previously mentioned underemployment. Major factors contributing to these students’ lack of engagement may include a dearth of educational and career resources in high schools and colleges, and insufficient preparation for higher education. As a result of inadequate support systems, Hispanic students tend to develop low levels of academic achievement and low self-efficacy. In turn, they may not find school engaging or believe they have the aptitude to succeed in this realm. This article will offer suggestions for educators and career counselors to motivate students using Flow, a positive psychology approach, to develop discipline and career commitment.

What is Flow?
Invented by Mihaly Csikzentmihaly (1990), Flow is a state of mind in which an individual is so absorbed in an activity that they are oblivious to the world around them. The concept of self dissolves and time becomes distorted. Csikszentmihaly correlates this experience to happiness. He believes, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (p. 3). As such, he identifies eight components of Flow: 

  1. Challenging task – not too simple or too difficult
  2. Ability to concentrate and focus on the activity
  3. Clear goals and immediate feedback
  4. Unawareness of distractions
  5. Sense of control over the task – free of worry or failure
  6. Lack of self-consciousness
  7. No concept of time
  8. Intrinsic motivation

Breaking Barriers with Flow
So how can Flow help Hispanic youth? According to a research study of Hispanic high school dropouts (Clayton-Molina, 2015), some participants cited that they were not clear on their course of study, while others mentioned that academics were too difficult for them, and others were simply bored with school in general (p. 51). Given this scenario, Hispanic youth need tools that will provide intrinsic motivation and prepare them for educational and career success. Experiences of Flow have the potential to raise their level of academic achievement and commitment to school.

One way to lift barriers and increase Flow in Hispanic students is for educators and career counselors to help them understand their values and interests via strengths assessment tools. Strengths assessments are self-discovery and personal development tools designed to capture strengths that energize individuals and result in high-level performance. With an understanding of their strengths, students would have an opportunity to capitalize on the areas in which they perform best. The following tools are reputable and widely used by career counselors and business professionals:

  • VIA Inventory of Strengths known as VIA-IS (https://www.viacharacter.org) is a psychological assessment that assesses 24 positive character strengths based on a 240-item measure and ranks them in order from 1-24; the top 5 are “signature strengths.”
  • StrengthsFinders 2.0 (https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com) identifies an individual’s unique top 5 talents based on 34 themes with the potential to be developed into strengths.
  • Holland Codes, often referred to as RIASEC, are used in assessment tools like the Self-Directed Search (http://www.self-directed-search.com/), as well as to match up occupational interests via O*NET (https://www.onetonline.org/), a web-based application. Using a three-letter code, students can match potential careers and schools that align with their interests as well as learn about required skills, knowledge and credentials.

Empirical evidence suggests using one’s strengths increases energy, confidence, self-esteem and engagement, increasing the likelihood that an individual will commit to achieving their goals (Grenville-Cleave, 2016).

In addition, developing and implementing SMART goals can be used in conjunction with strengths to help Hispanic youth create a meaningful career path. SMART goals consist of five components: they must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. A specific and measurable goal is a task such as completing an eight-week summer internship. By achievable and realistic, the individual must have the appropriate skill level to complete the task in a specific timeframe, with no obstacles. The timeframe to complete the goal also must be reasonable. Encouraging students to develop short- and long-term goals in which salient character strengths are incorporated into their high school curriculums will cultivate positive habits and foster learning and development (Park and Peterson, 2009). Further, ensuring that goals are achievable by matching up the appropriate skill level and challenge with coursework will provide opportunities to experience Flow and move students beyond any detrimental beliefs they may have regarding educational outcomes.

Tools to Move Forward
For Hispanic youth to move beyond the barriers that deprive them of positive educational and career opportunities, it is important to take part in challenges that will produce Flow experiences. With an understanding of their strengths, students can find and advocate for better opportunities for career compatibility and meaningful experiences. Formulating short- and long-term SMART goals will provide direction for following an overarching plan while fostering commitment and discipline. As such, it is necessary for educators and career counselors to provide Hispanic students with these tools to move them forward in their educational and career pursuits.



Clayton-Molina, C. A. (2015). Hispanic high school dropouts: Their unheard voices. Walden University Scholarworks. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.waldenu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1231&context=dissertations

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

Fact Sheet: President Obama announces high school graduation rate has reached new high (2016). The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. Retrieved from https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/10/17/fact-sheet-president-obama-announces-high-school-graduation-rate-has

Grenville-Cleave, B. (2016). Positive psychology: A toolkit for happiness, purpose and well-being. London, UK: Icon Books Ltd.

Nora A. and Crisp G (2009). Hispanics and higher education: An overview of research, theory and practice. J.C. Smart (ed.) Higher Education: Handbook of Theory of Research. Retrieved from http://www.hacu.net/

Park N. and Peterson C. (2009). Character strengths: Research and practice. Journal of College and Character. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.2202/1940-1639.1042

Denise OcampoDenise Ocampo holds a Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Sciences with a minor in Psychology from Metropolitan State University of Denver. She has 2 years of experience in workforce development, training and recruiting. Denise became interested in career development when she came across the book entitled, “Do What You Are,” by Paul D. Tieger, Barbara Barron, and Kelly Tieger while she was working a job that she did not find fulfilling. Ever since, she has dreamt of helping people find their calling in life, and recently completed a CDF certification. You can reach Denise at docampo5@comcast.net.

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Rosalinda Rivas   on Thursday 09/07/2017 at 09:13 PM

Thank you Denise Ocampo for the wonderful article. I appreciate the attached links and references that reflect the reseach based knowledge that I have gained from your article.

Kimberly M.    on Sunday 06/14/2020 at 03:29 PM

Interesting, comprehensive, well-organized, and necessary.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.