KIPP high schoolers get a leg up on college

ByMartha Woodall

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Haley Wilson, a rising senior at KIPP DuBois Collegiate Academy, is spending days this summer in the law department at GlaxoSmithKline, learning about patents, trademarks, and what it takes to bring a new medicine to market.

“This just helps me get to the head of the line going to college and getting internships during college,” said Wilson, 17. “This legal aspect will help me when I actually open my own business.”

His classmates Yolanda Jordan and Dorian McClendon have internships through Accenture, the global management-consulting firm, where they are polishing their skills with PowerPoint and Excel.

“I get to dip my toe in all types of business and see how the behind the scenes work for large companies,” Jordan said.

In all, 74 seniors from the West Philadelphia charter school with a college-prep focus are exploring careers and learning work and professional skills with paid summer internships.

The program, in its first year in Philadelphia, is an expansion of the Future Focus initiative created through a partnership between KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) – a national network of charter schools – and Accenture.

Marc Mannella, chief executive and founder of KIPP Philadelphia, which operates DuBois and three other city charters, said the students are building their skills, building their resumés, and exploring career opportunities.

“The beauty of this is, it fits together with our mission so well,” he said.

The summer experience follows Junior College Seminar, which all 11th graders at DuBois take to prepare for college.

The internship piece “is totally new,” said Jason Smith, one of the directors of college support in KIPP Through College, which keeps tabs on Philadelphia graduates while they are pursuing their degrees.

“We believe that in helping students to be career-ready, we’re also helping them to be college-ready because they need the same type of skills,” Smith said. “They need to understand how to communicate. They need to understand time management. And they need to know how to show up and basically make it happen.”

Last week, about half of the 20 Accenture interns participated in a lunch session with some of Accenture’s newest employees in Center City to learn about computer tips and shortcuts, and to practice their networking skills.

“I knew about PowerPoint and Excel, like the basics,” said Jordan, 18, of North Philadelphia, who plans to study psychology and education in college. “I didn’t know the Excel-PowerPoint ninjas, the acrobats of them, because they’re amazing.”

She said her new technical prowess will come in handy when she presents findings from her senior project on brain activity next year.

McClendon, 17, said he was nervous when he arrived at Accenture’s office early this month.

“When I started, I didn’t think I would feel comfortable,” he said. “But everybody just took me in with open arms. They treated me like I was a coworker.”

McClendon, from West Philadelphia, said he had learned a lot.

“It connects back to college,” he said. “I always wanted to be an investigator, and learning how to do stuff in Excel is good for tracking data.”

After launching Future Focus, a career-readiness program, at a KIPP school in Washington in 2011-12, Accenture provided a $3.3 million grant so it could grow. It is operating in nine cities this summer. Accenture recruited 175 companies nationwide to sponsor paid internships for more than 300 students from KIPP high schools. Philadelphia has more students participating than other cities.

The Junior College Seminar interns took at DuBois drew on Future Focus, including career planning, interviewing skills, media know-how, and financial literacy.

Accenture took on the project as part of its Skills to Succeed program, which aims to equip 700,000 people worldwide to get a job or build a business by 2015.

David Boath, a senior managing director at Accenture, is the executive sponsor in Philadelphia. “Getting kids into the workforce is a hard thing,” he said. “We felt that giving them a little edge, giving them real-world, paid internship work, would be good.”

Interns will be paid $750 to $2,000 this summer, based on their hours and the nature of the job.

Boath said Accenture lined up internships for 20 DuBois students at its office and with some of its corporate clients, including pharmaceutical and chemical companies.

Accenture also lent an analyst, Lindsay Czachorowski, to DuBois for a year to implement Future Focus and find other internships.

At GlaxoSmithKline’s offices at the Navy Yard, Wilson works three days a week with Samantha Wilson, an assistant general counsel, who is not related.

She developed his internship from the Young Inventors Program the company takes to area schools. Wilson had to come up with the idea for an invention and then follow the steps to launch it. The teen met members of other departments to find out what it takes to get a product off the ground.

Because heart disease has been a long-standing problem in his own family, Wilson’s project focused on a hypothetical heart medicine for children – minus the clinical trials. He’ll make a presentation when his internship ends next week.

“When I did the interviews, I said I wanted to start my own business, but I was kind of naive on how actually to do it,” Wilson said.

“It’s just been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”