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#ChoosetoChallenge Spotlight - Denise Kingman

The month of May marks the time schools and families are preparing for graduation. As students prepare to head out and face the future in a rapidly changing world, many will be weighing their path to higher education.  College graduates may also be questioning if their schooling will be enough to begin their careers. Wondering, “Will the skills and knowledge from a college degree be enough to compete? On average, recent college graduates apply to 23 jobs before they being hired.  

While thinking about how our community can help support and inspire young people to pursue their passionscomplete a degree program, and join the workforce, I had the pleasure of learning about Denise Kingman. She is the Director of Employer Engagement and Career Services at Pima Community College (PCC) and leads their Office of Apprenticeship. Her efforts helped to make PCC the first community college in Arizona to become an intermediary sponsor.  

Apprenticeship programs like the one lead by Denise, open up new career path opportunities for students. Offering the opportunity to earn an income while receiving hands-on training and instruction. Students participating in this program go on to successful, well-paid, and highly respected careers. In a time where many employers require both experience and a degree, apprenticeship programs deliver both 

“People come to school to learn, but they also come because they want to change their life, they want to get a career, to get a livable wage and make a change. So that’s where I focus on.” 

Since programs like this are noyet widely used in Arizona, there may be perceived barriers for small- and mid-sized businesses keeping them from utilizing apprenticeship programs. Denise is pushing back and using this program to empower and challenge SMBs to let PCC take on that effort for them.  

She is also helping prepare graduates for the workforce by using Pima’s programs to help them prepare for interviews, create a resume and build their professional skillsets.  

Denise is a native Tucsonan and Pima Community College alumni. Her passion for preparing graduates to join the local workforce stems from a desire to see her community continue to thrive. Her career helping others first began in social work with a drug treatment program. She loved helping put people on a trajectory to change their life. She worked with Las Amigas - one of the first programs that allowed women with children under the age of 5 or who were pregnant to seek treatment for addictions.  

She then shifted her career to focus on school counseling. After 10 years in that position, she learned about Pima’s Upward Bound program and took on the challenge of managing that program. The Upward Bound program is a federally funded college prep program designed to serve low-income, first-generation college students. It brought the financial backing and resources that public schools alone cannot provide to help students get into college.  

When she started her position in career services, she was literally a one-woman show. This forced her to re-think what needed to be done to make the most impact in the community. She knew that just helping students create a resume wasn’t going to be enough to help them make lasting connections in the workforce. She decided to focus her approach on work-based learning, offering the best path to allow students to significantly impact their lives. Part of her approach was to start building not just a list of local organizations and resources, but actually forming relationships with those organizations. Her goal is to make this program the center for our community, students, and employers to come together.  

 In Denise’s role working with employers, she is often the only woman in the room. The education industry is another area we see a large divide in gender balance. While the educators themselves tend to be largely female, leadership boards are often lead by men. Denise says the way we can change that is to encourage women and underrepresented groups to fight their self-doubt, seize every opportunity to challenge the status quo, and “know enough to be dangerous.” She would like to see more Tucsonans be given the opportunity to serve in leadership positions as they have a vested interest in the success of our community.  

When I asked Denise about women in her life that have had an impact on her career and professional development, she said she was inspired by her mother. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom that later found herself needing to obtain a career to help support her family. This is great evidence that you can start or change your career journey no matter what stage of life you are in.  

“Don’t be afraid to take on challenges when you can, that’s how you build your toolkit.” 

Denise’s drive to make an impact in our community, her desire to help people find a better path for their life, and her passion for enriching our Tucson community are the reasons why I wanted to shine a light on the work she does every day. Thank you for empowering us to #choosetochallenge ourselves and our community to do better.  

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