Community Development

How Do We Actually Prepare Students for Their First Jobs?

June 26, 2017  • Aimée Eubanks Davis

Aimée Eubanks Davis is the founder and CEO of Braven, which works to ensure underrepresented college students develop the skills, mindsets, and networks to get strong first jobs after graduation. She will be speaking at the Viewpoints track at the Aspen Ideas Festival. 

What are the most important things that you think college students need in order to be prepared for graduation and the workforce?

Our country’s strength has always come from our bold, diverse talent. Today, we’re losing far too much of that invaluable resource. Each year 1.2 million college enrollees will be first-generation college students or come from low-income backgrounds. A shocking 900,000 of those won’t go on to secure a high-quality job within 12 months of college graduation.

In our work at Braven, we’ve found that there are four areas of support that can turn this statistic on its head. The first is ensuring students are empowered with career-readiness skills. There are critical skills–writing a resume, doing an elevator pitch, and networking–that students are expected to have mastery of, but are never taught. The second is the mindsets needed to get and thrive in a strong first job. Students are expected, but again never taught, to understand and be able to leverage their personal assets as well as navigate workplace culture. The third is professional experiences. Often our students have significant school, work, and family obligations that prevent them from being able to prioritize an internship, especially if is it unpaid. But more than ever, employers are looking for candidates with internship experiences that demonstrate a track record of results or a portfolio of work. Lastly, and probably most critically, our students need a network of people who will mentor, endorse, and open professional doors for them.

How does Braven aim to foster these qualities in the students they work with?

We empower untapped students from college to career by partnering directly with universities and employers to offer a two-part experience that begins with a credit-bearing course, embedded within the college experience followed by a post-course experience that lasts through graduation. Fellows emerge from Braven with the skills, mindsets, and networks they need to put their education to work.

The course is a hybrid online and in-person career-acceleration experience that students take for credit during their sophomore or junior year. Braven Fellows complete weekly online modules to develop in three professional competencies: operating and managing, problem-solving, and networking and communicating. Volunteer professionals from local employers, called Leadership Coaches, lead teams of five to eight Fellows through weekly “Learning Labs,” sharing real-world applications and feedback.

After the course, Fellows develop leadership and career-readiness skills, engage with an enduring professional network, and stay on track to secure strong internships and jobs. Across the entire Braven experience, partnerships with employers are key. For employers, these partnerships offer access to new talent and enable them to provide employees with meaningful employee engagement.

Any time you’re trying to do something new, you’re likely to run into skeptics.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve found in this work, and how do you tackle them?

Any time you’re trying to do something new, you’re likely to run into skeptics. We’ve had many people question the need to add career-acceleration experiences into college. We’ve all been promising kids that a college degree is their ticket to economic freedom. But while a BA is as important as ever for economic advancement, we also know that it isn’t enough. Despite some skeptics, we’ve been beyond lucky to find innovative champions in higher education who have seen the challenge firsthand. Nancy Cantor, the Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, and Dr. Elaine Collins, the Associate Dean of San José State University’s College of Science have been the fiercest advocates for bringing Braven to their schools and ensuring we’re evolving to meet students’ needs in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Did your work at Teach for America prepare you for Braven’s mission? What lessons did you learn?

Definitely! I joined Teach For America and taught 6th grade at James Lewis Extension school in Pre-Katrina New Orleans. I fell in love with my students and their families and vividly remember the period of my life when these former students started to graduate from college. By that point, I was leading Teach For America’s human-capital work. Each year, 50,000 individuals applied to the teaching corps and another 30,000 applied to the staff.

My students and I had been working towards and dreaming about college graduation for years. And I was beyond humbled and inspired to see that many of them applied to TFA’s staff or corps. But then the unthinkable happened: many of them didn’t make it over Teach For America’s rigorous selection bar. It was horrifying and it got me and others wondering about what was missing in higher education.

I knew from my time teaching and running human capital that I was at my best when I was helping individuals meet their full potential. And here was an enormous group of young people (including some of the individuals who I cared about most) who were lacking access to the skills, mindsets, experiences and networks they needed to land strong first jobs and meet their incredible potential. It was in this painful moment that my strengths and passions intersected, and my organization Braven was born.

What advice would you give to underrepresented college students?

First and foremost, your talent is such an asset to this country and we need you and your leadership. Keep working hard. Pick a major that excites you. At this point in your life it’s critical to develop the professional competencies and network that you’re going to need for any job. So don’t be too anxious about choosing a specific career path at this moment…career aspirations change and evolve.

The views and opinions of the author are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Aspen Institute.

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