There was a time when college was not in Vanessa Nunez's future, let alone a job that could pay a livable wage. At 17 she was barely passing high school, instead devoting the majority of her time and energy to a part-time job that kept her out until one or two in the morning. At six dollars an hour, the job felt like success, and her future, as she describes it, had begun to conform to the standards of the area in which she lived—"minimum wage, maybe two jobs, no benefits, no vacation, no holidays off, and a lifetime of living paycheck-to-paycheck."
Fast forward to June 2009 and Vanessa is speaking at the White House. She is then a freshman in college, making good grades and setting an example for her younger siblings. Her future now holds a professional career. "If anyone had told me four years ago that I’d be here today, at the White House, I would have thought that they were just crazy," she laughs.
The credit for this remarkable transformation goes to Genesys Works—a nonprofit program that enables urban high school students to break barriers and discover, through meaningful work experience, that they can succeed as professionals in the corporate world. At Genesys Works, Vanessa received training in information technology and was placed in an internship at Marathon Oil as a computer technician. She found herself thriving in a professional environment and felt proud to be working at a major corporation. She defied others' expectations of a high school student, constantly proving her technical skills and exhibiting the behaviors of a mature, dependable employee.
The experience also changed Vanessa's perception of what it meant to be a working professional. "Genesys Works opened doors and opened my eyes to a new world. It gave me self confidence and a new future to think about and work toward," she said. "But most importantly it taught me that I can succeed as a professional in the corporate world...a world I never imagined I could be a part of."
Changing The Future One Meaningful Internship At A Time
With the help of teachers and guidance counselors at partner schools, Genesys Works identifies high-potential students in the 25th to 75th percentile of a junior class who have the ability to succeed in college but are not necessarily college-tracked. During the summer prior to their senior year, these students participate in eight intensive weeks of training in either information technology, engineering drafting, or accounting. Students are then employed half-time for one of Genesys Works' Fortune 500 corporate partners, like Continental Airlines, 3M Corporation, ExxonMobil, and Accenture, throughout their senior year. These internships are complemented with participation in weekly evening workshops that emphasize job performance, college application and scholarship assistance, and discussions on how college can further professional and life goals.
Through this program, Genesys Works exposes students to a culture of high expectations and professionalism. Students realize first-hand that they can thrive in a corporate environment and that pursing a professional career can help them achieve a much higher standard of living. With this knowledge and continuous guidance from the Genesys Works' staff, students in the program significantly redefine their long term goals and set plans to pursue them. In fact, more than 95 percent of Genesys Works' graduates enroll in college immediately after high school, which is significant as most are the first in their family to do so.
An important factor in Genesys Works' success is its self-sustaining model. Genesys Works' corporate partners benefit from reliable and motivated resources, while students get to experience a life-changing opportunity while being paid. More than 80 percent of the program's expenses are paid for with the earned income received from the provision of services to corporate partners.
Changing The Game Through Partnerships
Since its inception in 2002, Genesys Works has grown from three students to more than 300 students in 2009. As Genesys Works continues to expand, Rafael Alvarez, Founder and CEO, is exploring ways that the organization can impact the broader public education system by partnering corporations and schools together to help bridge the gap between urban students and professional careers.
By reaching more students through its programs in Houston, Texas; Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Chicago, Illinois, and expanding to more cities in the near future, Genesys Works aspires to prove to school districts and policymakers that its model can dramatically change students' expectations of themselves and propel them on a path to post-secondary education and professional careers.