Many urban high schools have the reputation of lacking the resources to prepare their students for college or the professional world. Urban Alliance is one organization that hopes to increase the number of students who do make it out of those schools and into their desired professions.
Urban Alliance is a year-long program that helps high school seniors in Washington, Baltimore and Chicago prepare for the professional world before attending college through paid internships, training and mentorship. The interns work part-time with a job partner in the public or private sector throughout the school year and also attend life skills and job readiness workshops.
Nakfana Gidey, Marie-Helene De-Messou and Syeeda Smith, all seniors at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., are three of Urban Alliance’s 2016 interns who benefit from the program.
Gidey, who interns with The Coca-Cola Company, was awestruck when she first heard through a close friend of Urban Alliance and the opportunities it had to offer.
“She spoke to me about the internship given at the World Bank through Urban Alliance for D.C. youth,” Gidey said. “I just remember being excited and awestruck. I thought, ‘what type of company has the power to do that?’”
The Coca-Cola Company is an international business that distributes a variety of different beverage products in more than 200 countries. Gidey works in the government and policy sector of Coca-Cola, which focuses on their business in terms of international, national, state and local communities and their engagement in the communities to ensure the well-being of the business.
Gidey expressed that through her internship, she was able to gain better organizational and listening skills, which helped her in the workplace, at school and in her future career.
Smith was referred to Urban Alliance through her teacher who had heard about the program through the school guidance counselor.
“Since I had the majority of my credits, with a half day schedule, and a friend of mine had completed the program in a previous year, I decided to follow through with applying for Urban Alliance,” Smith said.
Smith works at Venable LLP, a law firm with offices located in Maryland, California, New York, D.C., and Virginia, where she performs several assistant tasks such as faxing, copying, scanning, mail matching and status checks. Smith explained that her experience at the firm has given her the perfect opportunity to pursue a career as a lawyer.
De-Messou, who works for the Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm, assists her Urban Alliance mentor and performs administrative work such as data entering, filing and copying documents. Though her internship, she gained several skills, but accuracy was particularly the most important.
“It’s important for me to always double check and make sure that the work I do is correct; no matter how long it takes,” De-Messou said. “I will use the skills that I have gained to help pursue my future career and to succeed in school by making sure everything I do — whether it’s work for school or for my actual job — is precise so that it will depict the effort I put into it.”
Although these young women are enjoying their internships, they work hard to balance the opportunity with their school work.
“It was a challenge adjusting for me considering how much time I had before I started my internship,” Gidey said. “I had a tiny taste of what senior life was like until ‘bam!’ No more free periods; no more free time after school, and no more seeing my friends every day.”
De-Messou also referred to her difficulty in trying to worry about doing well in school, applying to colleges and scholarships, and doing well at her internship.
“It has been a bit difficult balancing work and school because it is my senior year of high school, which means that not only do I have to maintain great grades in my classes; I also have to complete college applications and scholarships, which take time to do,” De-Messou said.
Despite its demands, the program also has a high achievement rate. One hundred percent of the program’s participants graduate high school on time; 79 percent of the program alumni enroll in a two- or four-year college, and more than 75 percent of program alumni remain in a career pathway throughout college, through employment or a career training program, one year after completing Urban Alliance. The program also maintains an 80 percent renewal rate with its corporate partners.
The alliance funds their program through partner companies such as AT&T, who contributed $500,000 at the start of this year’s program. Without them, the interns would not have access to several of the internship opportunities that they are exposed to through Urban Alliance.
“It has been a lot of work,” De-Messou said. “But honestly, I’m so blessed and thankful for this experience because it is getting me ready for the real world, and it is teaching me how to prioritize.”