For underserved youth, the lack of educational opportunity can seriously hinder their development and future career prospects. Many are deprived of early childhood chances at experiencing the professional world, so a career in science, finance, IT, or marketing is a pipe dream.
Unless someone shows them it’s possible.
At the Middle Tennessee and Peninsula chapters of the Boys & Girls Clubs, high school students are receiving an introduction into a new world of possibilities. A partnership with Cloudera is exposing students to careers in STEM, finance & marketing, and professional development in the corporate world.
The program uses in-person and virtual sessions to introduce students to a variety of career paths and corporate life. Pupils get access to education, corporate mentors, and internships in an initiative to level the playing field for underserved high schoolers. The goal is to inspire them to compete for academic pursuits and internships they otherwise might not know of.
“Because of the often significant inequality in the school system, many brilliant students in underserved communities are left behind. Our goal is to give students access to educational and real-life experiences that will help them realize their full potential and shape their future aspirations,” says Courtney Dillard, Cloudera Director of Learning & Enrichment Programs.
The initiative, launched in spring 2021, came out of Cloudera’s Equality Committee, formed in June 2020 with the goal of increasing equality and inclusion at the company.
As part of the program, Cloudera made a $30,000 donation to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee to help fund Club NEXT, an online platform that offers tutoring, classes, and activities in science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics (STEAM), finance, marketing, and other development opportunities.
This first pilot focused on personal and professional development, graphic design, and marketing. It included time for free exploration by students, weekly “career conversations,” LinkedIn workshops and training courses from the online learning company Udemy. It was replicated in a summer session.
In the summer of 2021, another pilot was launched in the San Francisco Bay Area at the Peninsula chapter, focusing on content around professionalism, emotional intelligence, and personal finance. It incorporated Udemy courses, as well as workshops to teach students to work with data and develop resumes and cover letters.
Some sessions involved appearances by Cloudera executives who spoke about professional development and their own experiences in the corporate world. Speakers included program advisor Valaretha Brown, Cloudera Senior Partner Marketing Manager and member of the company’s Equality Committee.
Brown says student reactions have been positive, even though the pandemic made it necessary to rely more heavily on a virtual approach than originally planned. Still, she says, those who participated received a lot of value.
Said one student, who learned about biology and personal finance: “Overall, both paths I learned about are very important to real life. The biology path was my favorite because I learned about a topic I am learning in AP Bio but more on a deeper level. When I go into college, I will know about saving and personal finance to better stabilize myself with money.”
Another said: “This program was amazing. I was especially impressed by my first course, which was personal finance. I found it both interesting and informative, which was nice to keep me engaged.”
The New Teen Accelerator Program
Drawing from lessons learned, the new Teen Accelerator program is being launched to follow a more defined, three-phase structure. The first phase focuses on identifying students who want to stay with the program by completing 10 hours of Udemy learning or Boys and Girl Club activities. The plan is to expand the program to other locations in fall 2022.
Top learners and engaged students can become “Cloudera fellows” in phase two, which will consist of immersive learning through Udemy and mentorships with Cloudera employees.
Students who complete phase two successfully will receive a $500 stipend and will be eligible for phase three – interviewing for a Cloudera internship.
“I feel incredibly blessed to work on building out a program like this and am proud that Cloudera is making investments in this area,” says Stephanie Han, a Senior Program Manager at Cloudera.
Paying it Forward
While the Boys & Girls initiative aims primarily to help underserved youth, it has other positive effects. Brown sees it as a way to “pay it forward.” As a teenager, she was introduced to the corporate world by participating in a similar program, where she was afforded an opportunity to work in an office setting behind a desk, “using my mind more than my hands. I had no idea that the corporate world even existed and what that meant until this program,” she says.
Now she can do the same for others by design. “Having walked in the shoes of an underserved youth, and now being able to give them this type of exposure just warms my heart,” she says.
Dillard, who has volunteered with youth in the past, says those teens inspired her to “help create a program like this so that young people are able to recognize their own abilities and have the opportunity to build a bright future for themselves.”
She is also inspired by the Boys & Girls Club program directors who have made the program possible. “Their insights and passion help us shape the program in ways that will have the greatest impact on the teens they work with every day,” she said. I am constantly inspired by them.”
Han sums up her own involvement simply: “It has been a dream job.” Not long ago, she was in finance. Now she is helping to shape a better future for the young.
Who knows? Some of those high schoolers might even become full-time Cloudera employees, bringing their backgrounds and experience into the company, enriching Cloudera’s culture and affirming our dedication to equity and equality of opportunity in tech.