On a recent Wednesday evening, seven students in a National Louis University classroom were scanning resumes of job candidates posted on the whiteboard. The students, all from the Pathways at NLU program, scribbled the positives and negatives of each candidate on sticky notes. Two adult volunteers, both working professionals, guided them through an exercise in which the students had to act as hiring managers, deciding which of the fictitious job candidates to contact for an interview.
The point was to teach the students what hiring managers look for, and how they can optimize their own resumes. The exercise was part of the program of Braven, a nonprofit which recently partnered with NLU to power up undergraduates’ career skills. The Braven program exposes undergraduates to careers they might not have known of before, guides them in considering the right career for them, and teaches them essential job search skills.
“Only one in four low-income or first-generation college students graduates and goes on to get a degree-worthy first job or go to graduate school,” said Natasha Kohl, Ph.D., manager of career development, who oversees the Braven program from the NLU side. “Braven’s mission is to close this gap in professional placement.”
Braven’s accelerator course launched at NLU in January, and Pathways students who opt to take it earn two credits over the 20-week course–in addition to career wisdom that could change the course of their lives. Most start the program in their sophomore year, which gives them time to really consider which career they want to pursue and make plans to achieve it. In this initial year, 65 sophomores and eight juniors are taking the course and becoming Braven fellows.
Volunteer professionals lead weekly workshops
Every week, students do online work in advance before they attend Wednesday learning labs. The labs are led by volunteers, who work in professional jobs in a variety of industries. They follow Braven’s curriculum, which includes activities such as looking at resumes from the perspective of a hiring manager, as described above; writing and updating their own resumes; giving each other feedback on their resumes, and more. Fellows create all the materials they’ll use to apply for internships and first jobs.
“It’s a pretty rigorous program. The students who have really bought in and engaged will say they’re already seeing the impact,” Kohl observed.
The program also offers the advantages of exposing students to careers they might not have heard of previously. For example, the working professionals who volunteer to lead the weekly class might tell the students about their own or other industries. They might also get a sense of the talents and interests a student possesses, and suggest a career he or she would enjoy.
“Students start thinking more meaningfully about their careers, and how their major aligns with what they want to do,” Kohl said.
Discovering the right career for themselves
“They have to ask themselves, ‘What am I good at? How does this align with the life I want? What do I want my job life to look like?”
As they progress through the Braven program into their later years of college, the students will meet mentors in their chosen fields. They also may complete two or three internships instead of one, which is typical.
Students who opt not to sign up to become a Braven fellow have other career-focusing options through the Pathways at NLU program.
‘Incredible potential of our young people’
Aimee Eubanks-Davis founded Braven in 2013, initially at San Jose State University in California. Braven expanded to the East Coast with Rutgers University-Newark and now to the Midwest with its NLU partnership. According to its website, it will reach 1,000 fellows this year.
“I grew up on the South side of Chicago and have been eager to bring Braven to my hometown, given both the deep need in the city as well as the incredible potential of our young people,” Eubanks-Davis said.
“The strong leadership at National Louis University, the innovative Pathways at NLU model, and our shared mission to ensure students maximize their talent and potential made NLU an ideal founding partner for Braven.“
She hopes Pathways students make the college-to-career connection.
“We have a huge opportunity to ensure Pathways at NLU students, many of whom are entering NLU on Pell Grants and coming from some of our city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, are graduating from college on a path to the American Dream, which in economic terms means earning more than their parents. This is critical for these students and their family units, and honestly for the health of our city and county as a whole,” she said.
Jonathan Chaparro, Braven’s site manager at NLU, noted that Braven’s mission is to provide access to untapped college students so that they ultimately pursue meaningful careers and lives of impact.
“NLU is setting students up for success through innovative teaching, ongoing coaching and a strong commitment to economic opportunity that has made our work incredibly aligned,” Chaparro said.