Chicago Tech Rocks Spotlight: Genesys Works

Molly Savage Breiner wrote this on Jul 25

We can't believe we're ONE MONTH away from Chicago Tech Rocks! All of the sponsors and planning committee have put in months of hard work and we're all looking forward to celebrating at Metro. But, as we continue to stress, at the end of the day, it's all about the beneficiary organizations and their missions.

This week's CTR Spotlight has a bit of a twist. Our friends at ReviewTrackers joined in the CTR fun and wrote the beneficiary profile this week! Big thanks to Megan and the ReviewTrackers team for introducing us all to Genesys Works!

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For Manuel Robles, getting a college degree and working in the field of information technology was difficult to imagine as a junior at Hubbard High School in Chicago’s southwest side. The idea of going to a four-year university was not talked about in Robles’ family, and his parents never went to college.

“I always thought once I got my high school degree, I would probably end up in some kind of trade,” Robles said “I was always thinking I would become an electrician or something.”

Today, at 23-years-old, Robles is not an electrician. He is the IT senior support analyst at Invenergy, a company that operates power generation to create cleaner energy. He graduated from Saint Xavier University with a degree in computer science.

He attributes his success to Genesys Works Chicago, a nonprofit that gives inner-city high school students a chance to experience what it is like to work in the corporate world. The organization prepares students to succeed in a professional environment and helps students realize their full potential.

During Robles’ junior year in 2010, Eric Patton, the executive director of Genesys Works at the time, came to his classroom to speak about the program, which seemed too good to be true, at first.

"My life kind of flipped"

Genesys Works places students in a meaningful internship when they are seniors in high school.

The program gives students a chance to see that there are opportunities after high school they’ve maybe never considered – a future they might have once seen as limiting is now full of possibilities.

Robles said that after he experienced the Genesys Works summer workshop training, his “life kind of flipped.”

“There were lot of time times when I had to break through,” he said. “Overcoming shyness, getting to understand what the professional environment was like.”

“During summer training – which is 8 weeks long – they taught us professional, technical and communication skills. All of this was really new to me. [The] technical I had a grasp on, but we went more into depth with it. After that summer training I thought, ‘Maybe I do see myself in a technical position one day’”

Robles said that when he was first introduced to Genesys Works, he couldn’t believe there was program out there that offered this kind of experience.

“Where I went to school no one really made it into college and didn’t really make it into a professional career,” he said. “I mean, we had counselors that would push from that direction, but since we all lived in more of a low-income community, we didn’t really have connections that showed us this was a possibility.”

Robles was placed in the support department at Chicago Public Schools after summer training, where he worked in two different teams: implementing technology into classrooms and their technology support team.

“It was really nice to be part of a team where they really trusted me, and they gave me real projects,” he said. “I got to go out and complete them on my own.”

The program

Laura Lukens, director of development and communications for Genesys Works, said students are eligible for the program if they are high school seniors and on the right track to graduate.

“We are identifying students who are underserved but have potential, appear open to coaching, and understand how Genesys Works can help them achieve their goals,” Lukens said.

In the spring, Genesys Works interviewed 299 students for placement in the program, and 195 entered into a workforce training program during the summer. It should be noted that 699 applications were received across 63 schools in Chicago and almost all of those students -- 651-- were invited to interview.

Later this summer, the 195 students will take part in an interview day at global consulting company Accenture, where they will participate in interviews with about 100 Accenture employees to hone in their interview skills. Lukens said it is estimated that 135 students will be placed in year-long internships in the fall.  

Ninety-six percent of Genesys Works students go on to college after their internship, and 81 percent are on the path to graduation.

Genesys Works is not yet able to determine the percentage of students who have graduated from a four-year college because their first Chicago class begin in 2010, not too long ago. The education industry’s standard for measuring graduation rates is six years (not four) after graduating from high school.

The estimated amount of freshman expected to graduate from a four-year college is low on both a local level and national level, according to a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. Only 18 percent of Chicago Public School freshman will graduate from a four-year college within 10 years of starting high school as of the 2015 estimate. While the number is higher than 17 percent in 2014, it’s below the national estimate of 22 percent.

Working with Accenture

One of the companies that Genesys Works students can intern for is Accenture, the same company that hosts the interview day.

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Elizabeth Rafferty, Global HR Organizational Design and Capability Lead Associate Director at Accenture, who is also the national and Chicago relationship lead for corporate partnership with Genesys Works, said the program is a way for the corporate community and education to come together.

Accenture doesn’t only sponsor interns and then send them on their way, they also look at other ways to continue to support students and the program on the whole as well.

“What we’re trying to do is really look at how we can continue to enhance and really help Genesys Works bring that mission to life,” Rafferty said. “[The mission] is to really enable these students to complete college [and] to thrive while they’re in college and [begin a career].

This past year, Accenture had 11 interns from Genesys Works work in the Human Resources, internal IT, finance, procurement and broadcast departments.

Tim Hookham, technology lead at Accenture who has worked with Genesys Works students for the past few years, said students can get an internship in corporate and see if it’s a fit for them.

“These are kids who are interested in doing it,” he said “I think that’s the right mindset being seniors in high school to where they can see corporate America, get an idea of what’s out there: if it’s for them or if it’s not.”

Hookham’s department is in the go-to place when employees need their laptops or other technology fixed. This past year, Hookham has been working with Peter, a student in the IT department who has helped Accenture employees save time by solving their problems right on the spot. Peter is going to attend Northern Illinois University, where he’ll pursue music.

Megan Wenzl is the Content Marketing Specialist for ReviewTrackers, an award-winning customer feedback software that empowers businesses by unlocking actionable customer intelligence that helps them manage their online reviews, improve brand reputation and make data-driven decisions that result in increased profitability.

Over the next six weeks we’ll introduce you to our two remaining beneficiary organizations. In the meantime, please help us meet our fundraising goal of $300,000; buy your concert tickets and raffle tickets now and help us spread the word!

Chicago Tech Rocks

None of this would be possible if not for the generosity of our sponsors. Thank you Synap, The CLA, Silicon Valley Bank, Centro, Trading Technologies, TechNexus, MB Real Estate, Signal, Chicago Inno and Tech.Co. If your company is interested in sponsorship opportunities, please visit: http://www.chicagotechrocks.org/#!sponsors/uy3cr

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