300 GE Employees Dive Into Boston’s Afterschool Programs and Nonprofits

Collaboration is the key to success. On January 18th, 300 General Electric employees saw this mantra come alive across Boston’s rich landscape of afterschool partners. The GE Foundation, its philanthropic arm, strives to transform communities and shape the workforce of tomorrow. In order to achieve this goal, GE advances STEM and college readiness opportunities for young people.

The 300 volunteers started their afternoon of service by learning about the landscape of educational opportunities in Boston. Eva Mitchell of Boston Public Schools provided an overview of the diverse assets of Boston students and the wealth of higher education institutions across the city.

Then Chris Smith of Boston After School & Beyond detailed how Boston works to expand the classroom to the community, unifying diverse stakeholders around the common goal of closing the opportunity gap. Smith also previewed some ongoing efforts to help youth develop the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary to succeed in tomorrow’s workforce.

From there, the GE employees hopped on buses that brought them to diverse spaces and places around Boston. In total, the 300 volunteers participated in six different hands-on activities, ranging from conducting mock-interviews with 8th grade students preparing for high school to advising on the implementation of citywide college readiness badges. The range of volunteer offerings and host sites were as follows:

  1.  John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science
  2. The English High School, with City Year
  3. Orchard Gardens K-8 School, with Citizen Schools
  4. William Monroe Trotter Innovation School, with Citizen Schools
  5. Mentorship/College & Career Readiness, with Boston After School & Beyond
  6. Mentorship/College & Career Readiness with Wentworth Institute of Technology

Site Visit Snapshots

1. O’Bryant School

GE volunteers had the opportunity to immerse themselves in many of the STEM afterschool offerings available to students, including an AP Chemistry lab where students conducted NaOH reactions and a robotics club where students worked with MIT employees to prepare for an upcoming competition. Each GE volunteer also partnered with a science fair group to offer feedback on the students’ projects. Finally, the volunteers learned about the school’s STEM plan and Innovation Arena, a forthcoming collaborative work space for students to use, and provided recommendations on how to further strengthen school-industry partnerships.

2. English High School, with City Year

Following an introduction from Headmaster Noriega-Murphey, volunteers jumped right into conducting Progress Report Conferences, using protocol developed by City Year. Each volunteer worked with one student, helping the high schooler draft a contract with goals and an action plan to maintain or improve in class. Then volunteers rotated among three activities to offer feedback on the GE-sponsored Brilliant Career Lab. These activities included interacting with 3D printers in the moving FabLab, discussing future job suggestions based on students’ selected interests, and providing input on the interface and manual of GE’s directed online skills-finder for students.

3. Orchard Gardens, with Citizen Schools

Upon arrival, GE employees met Megan Bird of Citizen Schools who described the program’s innovative approach, which supports the transition between middle school and high school. She also detailed Boston’s complex high school choice system in which middle-school students apply to high schools across the city, regardless of where they reside. Given this choice model, Boston middle-schoolers interview for certain high schools, similar to the college admissions process. Citizen Schools helps put young people on the track to succeed, by providing them access to rich learning opportunities, key partnerships, and transitional supports. GE volunteers helped 80 8th graders practice their interview skills, meeting one-on-one with three students and offering vital feedback on their interview demeanor and delivery. To read more about this site visit, please read this Boston Herald article.

4. Trotter School, with Citizen Schools

GE employees meet with Carolyn Navikonis of Citizen Schools for brief orientation of its 8th Grade Academy. For an icebreaker, GE employees introduced themselves and their jobs, and described the coolest thing about their job — for example, “At my job, I get to invest in power projects in regions with no electricity.” Students followed suit, introducing themselves, their dream jobs, and the coolest thing about their dream job. After that activity, students and GE volunteers paired up for three rounds of interviews. The day ended with GE volunteers offering students  “Glows” (strengths) and “Grows” (things to work on to improve their interviewing skills), and reflecting on their experiences at the Trotter School.

5. Mentorship/College & Career Readiness, with Boston After School & Beyond

At this session, the group identified the skills that employees need to succeed at GE. Consensus emerged around several social and emotional skills like perseverance, teamwork, and critical thinking. Then Boston After School & Beyond transitioned into an overview of its recent progress on digital badges. Then the volunteers broke up into smaller groups and were asked to focus on a particular skill to answer following questions: what criteria would you use to measure that skill, who would assess the young person, and what evidence is needed to demonstrate mastery of the skill. Ideas from GE employees about the opportunities, tradeoffs, and risks of badging were particularly insightful; for example, a suggestion to incorporate a mentorship component in which a student with badges would mentor other youth who had not yet earned badges. Such feedback will help inform ongoing efforts to scale this badging system citywide.

6. Mentorship/College & Career Readiness, with Wentworth Institute of Technology

The volunteer event kicked off with a brief reception alongside Wentworth administration and faculty representing a wide variety of departments at the school. President of the College, Dr. Zorica Pantic spoke to Wentworth’s commitment to career readiness. GE employees and WIT faculty continued to discuss each other’s work in their respective institutions and how to prepare their students for the workforce. Then some GE employees transitioned to one-on-one appointments with college students who attend Wentworth, during which they reviewed students’ resumes and cover letters, conducted mock interviews, and shared other strategies to become a stronger job candidate. Finally, five GE employee volunteers participated in a panel, moderated by Becky Smith, Wentworth international career specialist, to discuss how to succeed in global leadership. One panelist’s quote directly tied to the earlier conversations with students: “Soft skills can be underrated, but they’re really important … Soft skills aren’t something you can read about. You only learn about them through your experiences.”

Many thanks to the following partners for collaborating with us on these events: GE Foundation, Boston Public Schools, Citizen Schools, Wentworth Institute of Technology, The O’Bryant School, English High School, Orchard Gardens School, and The Trotter School.