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When Nathaniel Cole was 17, he wanted to be a lawyer. It was a career he could imagine, growing up in D.C., and one he believed he could do well in. But then he had an internship via Urban Alliance, a 20-year-old program offering paid internships for D.C. Public Schools high-school seniors, and he discovered another path — nonprofits.
Now Cole is the executive director of Urban Alliance, helping today’s high school seniors navigate that same crucial time in life.
Essentially, Urban Alliance internships work like this. First, starting in October, selected students get six weeks of training on what to expect and how to act in the workplace. Then, for the remainder of the school year, the students work at a partner company (a company who has agreed to join the program — more on that later) Monday through Thursday in the afternoons. On Fridays, they receive more coaching and training from Urban Alliance staff. Once the student graduates in early summer, they go on to work full hours Monday through Thursday.
Cole told Technical.ly that 90 percent of Urban Alliance students go to college after their program concludes, despite the fact that many come from a low-income background. The remainder of the students, he said, go on to some other educational program like City Year.
For the employers’ part, companies make a $12,500 tax-deductible donation that supports the intern’s salary as well as the Urban Alliance program overall. They also identify a mentor for the intern within the company — “individuals that understand the importance of developing local talent.” Urban Alliance provides support for partner companies, too, helping them decide where to place the intern and what kinds of tasks might be appropriate.
In 2015, though, Urban Alliance won an Investing in Innovation grant from the Department of Education — a grant that will be used to fund the $12,500 fee for a company partner that works in a STEM field. Cole sees this as an amazing opportunity — a chance for a company to try the program out, see how it fits, without making any upfront investment. In a much broader sense, though, it’s also an incredible opportunity to further develop the STEM talent pipeline in D.C. Local companies already working with Urban Alliance include #dctech staples like Phone2Action and EverFi. Cole told Technical.ly that Iron Yard just signed on, too.
This year, Urban Alliance is serving 165 students. When I ask Cole what his favorite part of the job is he says “oh my god” and a giant smile emerges on his face. “It’s meeting our young people,” he says, without hesitation. Seeing the students, nervous but excited, at the beginning of the 10-month program an then hearing their stories of success, challenge and self discovery at the end is a constant source of inspiration.
“I know what it’s like to have a network at 17-18 when you’re figuring out your next steps,” he said. It’s more than a little powerful.-30-
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