Simone Murray with Bill Warren at the DirectEmployers Association 2015 Annual Meeting & Conference(#DEAM15)
Education inequality is a chronic problem in this country, and it is getting worse. As a result, initiatives designed to assist are definitely worth special exposure. One of them is the DirectEmployers Foundation, Inc. headed by Simone Murray, its first Executive Director.
Simone is passionate about her mission – and this, for very good reasons. Raised by a single mother who immigrated to the US from Jamaica when she was a child, she was the first and only one to attend college out of all of her six cousins that she grew up with. After completing college, her career in business management opened her eyes to the lack of diversity in roles with high paying jobs. “I knew once I reached a certain level of success,” Simone says, “that I wanted to open the doors for my children and other students”.
The purpose of the Foundation is to enable socioeconomically disadvantaged middle and high school students to explore STEM careers with Central Indiana employers. The originality of the program is that instead of having students go visit employers, employers are the ones coming to students. Look at it as a new dimension of internship programs, or what I would call “reverse internships.”
The model offers three critical benefits:
Scalability: Traditional internships target students individually. In this new model one company addresses several students at once. Employers come to a school and set up their business environment within that school. They are “employers-in-residence” and they conduct their work activities in a dedicated area on a school campus. Typically, each group comprises six to twelve students in grades 8-12. In 2015, the initiative has impacted over 165 students from ten schools. Two of these schools have hosted the Employer Simulated Workplace labs, IPS Career Technology Center and Bloomfield Jr./Sr. High School. Some of the employers who have participated so far include the DirectEmployers Association, Salesforce, Duke Realty, NSWC Crane, PwC, Eli Lilly and Company.
Effective learning for students: Individual internships transplant students into an unfamiliar place: the more socioeconomically disadvantaged a student is, the higher the culture shock. More often than not, efforts to adjust to a completely foreign environment create fear or discouragement, a severe form of distraction that prevents interns from enjoying the experience and, even worse, from leveraging their own learning potential. They spend too much time struggling with the inhibiting emotions of their fear of not fitting in. In this new model, companies immerse themselves into the students’ environment, and, as a result, students can directly share their experience with their peers in their own language as well as with their teachers, who, in turn, can enrich their courses, because they too are seamlessly exposed to the corporate world.
Reciprocal experiential learning: Experiential learning immerses participants in an active and shared learning environment and has proved extremely successful. Though its the Employer Simulated Workplace labs, the DirectEmployers Foundation‘s offers employers the ability to go the extra mile and experience for themselves the complex world of diversity, something that it is almost impossible for most employers to fathom from within their internal precincts. “Being a part of, and partnering with DirectEmployers Foundation, has been a rewarding and impactful experience, ” says Chris Ferguson from Duke Realty. “The goals of the foundation really resonate with Duke Realty in that we believe that we have the responsibility to give back, and be stewards to our communities. Our involvement with the work study program in conjunction with IPS will allow many of our associates that participate to enhance a young person’s life, and future, by exposing them to career opportunities they may have not ever known existed; providing them hands-on experience and real world knowledge.”
The DirectEmployers Foundation, Inc. is a powerful, transformative initiative fostering new mindsets and new hopes among disadvantaged adolescents. As Bill Warren, Executive Director of the DirectEmployers Association, puts it: “By providing opportunities for our employer partners to show at-risk students what it’s really like to work day-to-day in a STEM career, we believe that those students will pursue such a major in college and eventually work for a local STEM employer, earning high wages in high skill jobs.” The initiative is also an occasion for companies to meaningfully connect with complex urban groups whose sole exposure to the business world consists of seeing gigantic illuminated logos from their suburbs.
Companies should consider participating to the DirectEmployers Foundation as a major action item in their inclusion and diversity programs and help the DirectEmployers Association to extend it to multiple States. Reducing education inequality has always been about inclusion and desegregation.