Mike Jones didn’t realize it at the time, but he lucked out when he moved into an apartment on Selby Avenue in St. Paul.

He happened to pick a spot within walking distance of the new Green Line light-rail line, which is slated to open in June.

That’s one of the reasons he was chosen for an unusual college program, known as the Central Corridor College Fellows partnership.

It’s designed especially for students like him, who live within a mile of the tracks and want to break into a career in health care.

The program, which started in the fall, helps pair students at two community colleges with jobs in hospitals and clinics along the Green Line.

For Jones, a 21-year-old nursing student at St. Paul College, it was truly a case of being in the right place at the right time. “I was really excited,” he said.

Within weeks, he landed the job he’d been coveting for more than a year, a nursing station technician at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. “I get to work with nurses and people in my profession every single day, which is just awesome,” he said. And because he’s part of the fellowship program, there’s no problem scheduling his shifts around his college classes.

It may be the first college fellowship inspired by a set of railroad tracks. But Brian Mogren, the program director, says it’s part of a larger effort to make sure that people living nearby — often in struggling neighborhoods in the so-called Central Corridor — share in the economic benefits.

“The whole concept is to assist students who live along the light rail,” said Mogren. In fact, the entire program is designed to allow students to get to work, school and home using light rail once the Green Line opens, linking Minneapolis and St. Paul. The two participating colleges — St. Paul College and Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) — are both less than a mile from stations.

Matching up 200 students

By this summer, Mogren said, the goal is to select 200 students in a variety of health-related programs — from addiction counseling to nursing — and match them with job openings while they’re still in school.

As part of the fellowship, Mogren will work with them one on one to sharpen their résumés, cover letters and applications. At the same time, the students will get a leg up on the competition because many large health employers, such as Fairview and HealthPartners, have signed on to work with them.

Anastasia Adorable, a nursing student at MCTC who joined the program, said it’s like having an asterisk on your job application.

“It kind of stands you out from the crowd,” she said. “Anything that’s going to give you an edge to getting a job, that’s great.”

Jones, who switched to nursing midway through his college career, said it was just the edge he needed. More than a year ago, he said, he applied for a similar hospital job without success. Once he started working with Mogren, he was able to “hammer out a strong résumé” that put his work and college experience in a better light. “I had a lot of the qualifications; I just didn’t have it organized on paper,” he said.

That’s not uncommon for students at the two colleges, where many are working adults trying to change careers, Mogren said. Sometimes, they need help learning how to use their experience and personal stories to impress a prospective employer. “You get them in the right mind-set,” he said. “We’ve had an outstanding success rate.”

He’s ‘a perfect fit’

Laura Beeth, who’s in charge of recruitment at Fairview hospitals and clinics, calls it a “win-win” for everyone.

“We have the type of jobs that these students are looking for,” she said. “They fill a need that we have.”

Jones, for example, turned out to be a perfect fit at Amplatz, she said. “These people are shining because they’re matched up with the right job. We’re just helping them figure out what job … they should apply for.”

Even if it’s an entry-level slot — such as office assistant or parking attendant — it’s a foot in the door. And when they finish their degrees, Beeth said, they can apply for higher-paying jobs as internal candidates.

Beeth is also chair of a task force for the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, one of two groups (along with the McKnight Foundation) funding the college fellowship program with a total of $200,000 in grants.

Already the program has drawn interest from students living beyond the one-mile radius of the Green Line, Mogren says. But there’s not enough money to help everyone — at least, not yet. “As we move forward, we want to be able to grow,” he said.

Beeth, too, says she hopes this is just the beginning. “We try to make a difference, because education and jobs is what prosperity is all about.”