Following Through On A Promise

Aneurin Canham-Clyne Photo“You can create entry-level jobs anywhere,” observed Chris Walker, a University of Connecticut junior who studies urban development and economics, “but people with a college degree need a reason to stay.

Walker (pictured above) made that observation while standing in a room at Payne Whitney Gym Wednesday night with some 250 fellow college students — New Haven-raised young people whom organizers of a program that helped them get to college were now trying to give a reason to stay in town after graduation.

That program is New Haven Promise. It gave college scholarships to Walker and the other students when they were in high school here and kept up their grades and attendance.

For the fifth straight year, Promise invited local employers to a fair to pitch summer internships to the now-college students, to get them in the pipeline for local work. Forty-five local employers showed up Wednesday night to make those pitches.

“Young people follow jobs,” Walker said. He expressed skepticism about business-friendly urban policies that attract employers who then leave town with their jobs, like Alexion. He argued that cities need programs for first-time homebuyers, strong employment benefits, and high wages to retain educated young workers. He said he was excited to see the City of New Haven and Yale University at the fair, and hoped this would reflect investment in the city’s future.

Chris Brown, who works with the Promise program through Yale’s Community Hiring Initiative, said that the fair demonstrated that New Haven Promise is living up to its motto: “To, through and back.”

“People go to Yale, Uconn, and Gateway, but there’s no guarantee of a job,” Brown said, adding that recent graduates need an average of two years of work experience and internships to secure a good job after college. 

Some employer representatives were looking to take on interns immediately. One such representative was Sarah Ofosu of Relay Graduate School of Education, an organization that helps paraprofessionals get certified as teachers. Ofosu’s company offers paid internships for students interested in education. Ofosu said her work reflects her commitment to New Haven and to diversity, as most paraprofessional certified through Relay have been people of color, helping to build a diverse and skilled workforce.

“Had I not started here I would never have stayed in Connecticut,” said Ofosu (pictured). 

Alina Colossale and Randall Rode, representing Yale Information Technology Services, said the New Haven Promise acts as a path to employment for many students.

Rode added that Yale ITS takes on seven to 10 college interns each year and as many high school interns. One of their current college interns, Eric Dejesus, had worked for Yale ITS while attending Wilbur Cross.

Alina Colossale noted that Yale ITS has employed interns from every public high school in the city. Despite competition for positions, Colossale hoped Yale ITS could act as a jobs pipeline for New Haven high school students and promise scholars.

“Youth are more prepared for employment than ever, it’s up to employers to start hiring,” Colossale said.

Patricia Melton (pictured), the director of New Haven Promise, said that this fair could generate as many as 150 paid internships. Melton said she hopes that New Haven Promise can act as an economic development engine by opening up access to college for first-generation students, minority students and low-income students.

Tamara Gray, a promise scholar and intern at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, who volunteered to help organize the event, expressed optimism for the city’s future. Gray said New Haven Promise opened a lot of doors for her, and will open more for the city as a whole.

“People are going to stay here,” said Gray (pictured), surveying the room, where students sat face to face with employers.

Jasmine Garcia expressed reservations about the city’s future. Though she thinks Promise is a great program, Garcia, who graduated from Wilbur Cross in 2015 and attends UConn, said she is unsure that current development boom in New Haven will benefit people who live here, regardless of their internships. Still, Garcia was glad she had a chance to speak to LEAP and other community organizations about mentoring young kids in New Haven. 

Alex Rivera, also a Uconn student, agreed, saying that development “is just pushing people out.” Rivera said he is afraid that the city is increasingly dominated by rich people.

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 11, 2018  9:02am

I tell young people today get the job first before you even think about going to college.In fact I tell them get a civil service job.

posted by: Seth Poole on January 11, 2018  3:59pm

My man Chris!  He never ceases to amaze me.  Sometimes he makes me feel like the mentee.

Great work New Haven Promise and Patricia Melton.  Lives are truly being impacted by your work.

Happy New Year!