Bianca Jimenez-Ortiz is the nation’s first paralegal apprentice graduate

Bianca Jimenez-Ortiz has always been a driven and determined student who thought she had her future figured out. She wanted to graduate high school as fast as possible, go to college, and move out of town.

Then she found a youth apprenticeship position that changed everything.

As a sophomore, Bianca knew she wanted a future where she could move out and take care of herself. She had her eyes on becoming a lawyer, but no clear idea of how to get on the path to get her there. But when she saw an opportunity to be a paralegal apprentice through CareerWise Elkhart County, she thought that might be a path forward. What she didn’t know when she applied was that she would become the first registered paralegal apprentice in the nation when she was hired by the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney in Elkhart County, Ind.

“It was really intimidating because there was no one in the office under 25 and I was 16 years old working in the prosecutor’s office with all of these people who had a lot of power,” said Bianca. “But I made the most out of the opportunity. It was surreal meeting people like the Prosecuting Attorney of Elkhart County, Vicki E. Becker, and all of these other influential people in the area. They have been very influential for me.”

Getting a job in such an important, high-profile office could make any young person’s head spin, but Bianca took it in stride. She saw every moment as a chance to learn and grow.

“I learned how to be professional at a very young age,” said Bianca. “I’ve had other jobs in the food and service industry, but it was very different from a job like this. It’s not just a paycheck, this job is preparing me for my future.”

Before long, the future she dreamed of was coming into focus, and she thought she would stay on as a full-time paralegal after her apprenticeship. However, the more experience she gained with the attorneys and the more chances she had to shadow them in court, she realized she wanted to go from the first registered paralegal apprentice in the nation to be the first registered paralegal apprentice-turned-prosecuting attorney in the nation.

Bianca turned her focus into using her apprenticeship to prepare for law school. Now a student on an accelerated pre-law track at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., she is using the professional skills she honed at her apprenticeship — skills like professional writing, critical thinking, and problem solving — to succeed in college.

“It helped a lot being in college and being at the prosecutor’s office because I had a perspective that other students didn’t,” said Bianca. “It solidified my public speaking skills; that’s one of the biggest things the CareerWise apprenticeship gave me.”

She used those skills to win the school’s student body vice presidential election, as well as being invited to compete with the Grace College Mediation Team in the International Academy of Dispute Resolution tournament in Bologna, Italy. She attributes the success she’s already achieved — and the new dreams she has — to her youth apprenticeship.

“There is no single path to success, but I think a youth apprenticeship teaches you the soft skills that people need in the workforce,” said Bianca. “College teaches you technical skills, but they don’t teach you how to be an adult and employee. My apprenticeship taught me all those skills that I need to be successful in my job, at school, and in my future.”

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