Beth Moncrief, Katherine Jumbe and John Hayden of Genesys Works
Can internships for
disadvantaged youth help meet the demand for skilled professionals?
A Civic Caucus
Interview March 20, 2015
Tom Abeles, John Adams,
Dave Broden (vice chair), Paul Gilje (executive director), John
Hayden, Katherine Jumbe, Sallie Kemper (associate director), Dan
Loritz (chair), Beth Moncrief, Paul Ostrow, Dana Schroeder
(associate director), Clarence Shallbetter, Fred Zimmerman.
A program that trains
low-income students, mostly students of color, in information
technology skills and the "soft" skills needed in a business
environment and then places them in corporate internships often
gives those students a stronger sense of the relevancy of their
school subjects. So say Beth Moncrief, Katherine Jumbe and John
Hayden, staff members of that program, Genesys Works. The nonprofit
program has been operating in the Twin Cities since 2008. Last year,
Genesys Works placed 220 students from 35 schools in internships
with 47 corporate clients.
Genesys Works provides concentrated,
ongoing support to the students and the corporate clients to help
ensure that internships are successful for both. The program also
closely guides students in applying for postsecondary education and
follows the students once they enroll. Moncrief says the program
faces challenges in the areas of arranging transportation, working
with school-day schedules, finding and recruiting the right
students, and setting realistic expectations with corporate clients
on what duties the interns can perform.
In working with the students, Jumbe has
come to realize that society needs to figure out what it means to be
successful as a high school graduate. She says we send students the
message that our schools are bad and that the students are a problem
to be solved and not a resource to be tapped. She believes Minnesota
has not figured out what the place is for low-income students and
students of color at its schools, its colleges and in its
An interviewer suggests that the
program could work well in rural Minnesota, where many small
communities have manufacturing industries close to high schools.
Hayden says Genesys Works wants to continue to grow and to help
other organizations replicate what it does.
Beth Moncrief is
program director for Genesys Works, where she has worked since 2008.
She oversees student programming and recruitment and works with
partner schools. Prior to joining Genesys Works, she served as an
AmeriCorps member for CollegeTracks, a college access program in
Montgomery County, Md., where she helped first-generation college
students make their college dreams a reality. She has also served as
legislative assistant for the Minnesota House of Representatives and
taught abroad in South Korea.
Moncrief is a graduate of Carleton
College, with a major in history and a concentration in African
Katherine (Katie) Jumbe is
development director for Genesys Works, a position she has held
since 2014, after spending a year on the program side as a program
coordinator. Previously, she worked for five years at Carleton
College, where she served first as assistant dean of admissions and
later as associate director in the Annual Fund. Prior to her time in
higher education, she was a student teacher at Community High School
in Ann Arbor, Mich.; a Peace Corps Volunteer working with low-income
students in Belize City, Belize; and an activity assistant at
Normandale Hills Elementary in Bloomington, Minn.
Jumbe holds a B.A. with a major in
English and a minor in French from Carleton College (2004) and an
M.A. in Education from the University of Michigan (2008).
John Hayden is program coordinator
for Genesys Works, where he works directly with a cohort of 20
students at a time as they proceed through the whole cycle of the
program, including training, college application assistance and job
placement. Previously, he served as program coordinator with
Playworks Illinois in South Chicago, where he worked in the
Englewood neighborhood in South Chicago, using the Playworks
philosophy to reduce violence and reform the learning environment at
Perkins Bass Elementary School. He also was program leader and
teacher with Catholic Charities CYO in the San Francisco Bay Area,
where he taught environmental education to youth in the Redwood
Forest and led summer camp programming. Hayden is an active board
member with No Labels Minnesota, a nonpartisan political group
committed to promoting healthy democracy in Minnesota. In 2010, he
earned a degree in biology from Spring Arbor University in Michigan.
The Civic Caucus has released
two recent statements on human capital: one in September 2014 laying
out the human capital challenges facing the state today and in
coming years and a
follow-up paper in January 2015
offering recommendations for maintaining
a high quality workforce in Minnesota. The Caucus interviewed three
staff members of Genesys Works-Twin Cities to learn how the
program's model of intensive training and support prepares otherwise
disadvantaged youth for successful employment in high-demand
information technology positions.
Genesys Works is a nonprofit organization in St. Paul dedicated to
building bridges between economically disadvantaged high school
students, businesses seeking technology-proficient workers, and an
inner-city public education system struggling to produce
high-quality, market-ready graduates.
Genesys Works-Twin Cities was created in
2008 to transform the lives of minority and low-income youth in
Minneapolis and St. Paul, while serving the business needs of the
Twin Cities corporate community. It is part of a national network
founded in Houston in 2002 by Rafael Alvarez. There are also
programs in Chicago and the Bay Area, with another program opening
in Washington, D.C., in 2016.
In 2007, the program decided on the Twin
Cities as its first expansion site outside of Houston. The
decision was based on a market study comparing communities on
philanthropy, headquarters of corporations and the public school
system. "This was deemed the sweet spot," Hayden said.
The program's mission is to enable
economically disadvantaged high school students to enter and thrive
in the economic mainstream by providing them the knowledge and work
experience to succeed as professionals. Students enter the
program during the summer prior to their senior year of high school
and, after eight intensive weeks of training, are assigned to work,
part time, at one of the program's corporate partner locations
during their senior year. The training is designed to arm students
with the knowledge they need to provide value to corporations in
specific technical fields varying at each of the program's
Students are also trained in the
communication and career-navigation skills needed to enter and
succeed in corporate environments, including public speaking,
situational awareness and drafting professional written
communication. The culture of the program is one of high
expectations and professionalism, starting from a student's first
"The program is like a staffing company,"
said Program Director Beth Moncrief. "We just happen to staff with
inner-city high school students."
In the Twin Cities, the program trains
students only in the area of information technology (IT). "For
us, IT is our sweet spot," Moncrief said. "Every single company
needs IT and the IT unemployment rate is basically zero. We know
we're going to need a bigger IT workforce going forward."
She said the Twin Cities program has
considered other fields besides IT. But a pilot program in business
operations proved challenging to match with meaningful, entry-level
jobs that would allow students to gain marketable skills. And, while
there are a lot of health-care businesses in the area, she said
patient privacy regulations and limitations on what students under
age 18 can do have made that a difficult field for the program to
The program also hopes to serve as a
catalyst for major education reform. It aims, in partnership
with schools, to achieve a culture in inner-city schools in which
the pursuit of a professional career becomes "the given" for all
Nationally, Genesys Works has served 3,139
students since 2002. In 2014, the organization served 1,250
students and program alumni; students in Genesys
Works internships earned $5.2 million. After completing an
internship, 95 percent of the students served by the program enroll
in college. Eighty percent of those students have graduated from
college or are still enrolled there. Nationally in 2014, the program
had 169 corporate partners providing internship opportunities for
Genesys Works provides intensive direct
service to students, with each program coordinator working with a
cohort of about 20 students through the whole cycle of the program.
"That makes our model unique," said Program Coordinator John Hayden.
"Sometimes we run into situations that would affect a participant's
workplace performance. We also help them with the barriers they face
in their schools to getting access to resources to get them into
college and to be successful. I am with them all the way through."
The program has three components: a summer
training program, an internship and college access programming.
Students learn soft skills and technical skills during Genesys
Works' eight-week summer training program. Students attend the
intensive sessions four hours a day. The program coordinators
teach soft skills for two hours, ranging from such basics as the
handshake to broader topics such as how to behave in the corporate
environment, how to write resumes and professional e-mails, etc.
"We're trying to take the high school edge off," Hayden said. IT
trainers teach the students during the other two hours, focusing
on specific IT skills.
The program has 47 corporate clients in the Twin Cities area
that provide placements for the students in paid internships.
Hayden said the program helps place each student who completes the
summer training in an internship that matches his or her skills
and interests and that is located in a place the student can
feasibly get to each workday. Student internships have included
help-desk positions; working with a project manager on a specific
task; desktop deliveries and installations, and software
development engineer roles. "The internship goes side-by-side with
the school day," Hayden said, with the student usually working
four hours in the afternoon. Students work 20 hours a week or
about 1,000 hours over a school year, earning about $10,000. "The
students acclimate to a professional environment," he said. "And
our corporate clients are good at treating them as professionals
and helping them succeed. The students grow tremendously." Program
coordinators meet individually with each student and supervisor in
the workplace once a month.
Genesys Works staff offer a seminar with a college-access
curriculum and also meet frequently with the students to see where
they are in their college-application process.
"We show them
different colleges and help them think about what type of college
they want," Hayden said. Students attend workshops where they can
sit down and complete their applications, financial aid
applications, the FAFSA form, etc. "We take them all the way
through," he said.
Moncrief clarified that the program's
definition of college includes two-year and four-year colleges and
certification programs. "It's a broader look at what college is,"
In 2014, 267 students were brought into
the Twin Cities summer training program and 220 of them were placed
in internships with 47 corporate clients. Moncrief compared
those numbers with the Twin Cities program's first year in 2008,
when there were 11 students from three different high schools
working in internships at seven companies.
Ninety percent of the Genesys Works
program is funded by earned income. According to Moncrief, the
corporate clients pay Genesys Works $19 for each hour an intern
works. The program then pays the intern $9 to $10 an hour. "The
difference funds our program," she said. Beginning in fall 2015,
corporate partners will pay $20 per hour and interns will move up to
a starting hourly wage of $9.50 per hour.
The corporate clients benefit by getting
motivated workers, engaging with the community, getting help in
creating their future IT workforce, and developing leadership skills
by having their employees manage the students.
The program has 35 school partners.
Moncrief said the St. Paul Public Schools are Genesys Works'
strongest school partner. "The schools we work really well with have
strong work-based learning programs, so that our students also get
high school credit for their internship," she said. "We look for
schools that believe college and career readiness are really
important." The program works with all of St. Paul's district high
She said the program has also moved
westward, where many of its corporate partners are located. "We
struggle to recruit students in Minneapolis," she said. "There are a
lot of other programs there. Sometimes it's challenging for those
students to leave school in time to get to work." She said the
program works with five high schools in Minneapolis: Roosevelt,
Washburn, North, South, and Henry. It also partners with Richfield,
Columbia Heights, and Robbinsdale Armstrong high schools, among
other suburban schools, which all have high-needs students who
qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch.
Genesys Works has several challenges in
working with school partners: transportation, school day schedules,
finding the right students for the program and setting realistic
expectations for the corporate partners.
Moncrief said it's very hard to get
students to their workplaces. The program has a transportation cap
requiring that it not take a student more than 45 minutes to get
to work. There are often no buses connecting the schools with the
workplaces, so the program is spending $100,000 a year on taxis to
transport about 20 percent of the students to work. However,
Hayden noted the considerable inconvenience and unreliability of
using taxis. The other eighty percent of the students rely on
buses, personal vehicles or rides from family members.
School day schedules.
She said a push to start school days
later makes it harder for students to leave on time to get to
their jobs by 1:00. The program works well with the flexibility
that full-time students in Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO)
have. The program doesn't really work for students enrolled in an
International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program or those taking a
full schedule of Advanced Placement (AP) classes, she said.
Finding the right students.
Moncrief noted that Genesys
Works targets "the quiet middle," students in the 2.0 to 3.5
grade-point range who aren't over-engaged in other activities.
Setting realistic expectations.
"These kids are not going
to walk in and do what the college interns do," she said. "They
come with different life experiences." She said the program works
with the clients to be sure they understand that and will provide
coaching and support to the student interns.
The program's student demographics include
overwhelmingly low-income students of color. According to
Development Director Katherine Jumbe, for the class of 2015, 88
percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch and 95
percent are students of color. The two largest groups are African
American students, followed by Hmong students. About 12 percent of
the students are African immigrants and 13 percent are Hispanic.
Genesys Works has benchmarks it strives to
Jumbe said the
benchmarks are (1) that 80 percent of the participants will finish
the summer training; (2) that 90 percent will finish their
internships; (3) that 95 percent of those who complete the program
will enroll in college immediately after high school; and (4) that
85 percent will have stayed in college and be on track after two
The most recent outcomes for Twin Cities
Genesys Works on these benchmarks are that 83 percent of students in
the class of 2015 completed the summer training,93 percent in the
class of 2014 enrolled in college right out of high school, and 79
percent are still in college and on track after two years.
Tracking progress on program outcomes is a
challenge for any nonprofit. "The demand from funders for
statistics is growing," Jumbe said. "But nonprofits are limited in
resources and it's a challenge to pay for a system to keep the
information and, for us, staff time to track the students down."
There are other programs providing high
school internships in the Twin Cities. Jumbe listed the
Cristo Rey High School in Minneapolis, where all students,
grades nine through 12, work in a corporate setting one full day
Right Track in St. Paul, which offers summer internships, such
as jobs in parks, libraries and nonprofits and in corporate
STEP-UP Achieve Jobs Program in Minneapolis offers summer
internships and a limited number of school-year internships, but
doesn't offer as much support in the workplace as Genesys does.
In most smaller high schools, there are no
technology classes and few high schools pay attention to the soft
skills. "Our schools need to do a better job of teaching the
soft skills," Moncrief said. "They're expected when you get into the
The biggest limiting factor for Genesys
Works in the Twin Cities is the number of students, not the number
of corporate partners. "Our challenge right now is making sure
we have enough students who want to do this program and can commit
that amount of time, while meeting graduation requirements,"
Society needs to figure out what it wants
from the high schools. "We haven't defined what it means to be
successful as a high school graduate," Jumbe said. "Today, we're
trying to get 100 percent of students to a level that's different
from what they would have needed 50 years ago. Jobs today involve a
level of sophistication that requires college or additional
training. We need to reassess how far kids need to get by the time
The program is trying to recruit heavily
at schools closer to its corporate clients. "We're getting
further away from our inner-city public schools," Hayden said.
"There definitely are needy students outside the inner cities. But
we have to be mindful of mission creep and getting away from our
The community college system should really
help students determine what they want to do next and the best way
to fulfill those goals through an academic program. Moncrief
said the two-year schools are understaffed with counselors and other
resources, even though students at those schools tend to have more
challenges. "If we could help them make sure they're on the right
path and that they know what they want to walk away with and what it
means, it would be a much better situation," she said.
Interviewer: The Genesys Works model could
also work in Greater Minnesota, since there are also low-income
students there. The interviewer noted that there aren't many
manufacturing jobs in the core metro area, but a number of rural
communities do have those jobs. "I have no remedy for what to do in
North Minneapolis," he said. "I wish I did. But there are needs in
some rural communities that do have industry near the schools."
The program could do more outreach with
parents and the community. Moncrief said Genesys Works does not
have the capacity to work actively with students or their families
earlier than their junior year. She said the program does engage
parents with the summer training program and when the internships
are announced. "But there's more that we could do with specific
communities and with parents to make sure that they're engaged and
helping us figure out solutions," she said.
More than half of potential student
recruits to Genesys Works say they want to know how to be a
professional in a business environment. "A strong pull for our
program is the desire to be able to present themselves, to be
competent public speakers and to have more confidence," Hayden said.
"I hear more of that during recruiting than I hear about students
looking for the technical training."
Jumbe added that a study of what brings
success in IT careers, commissioned by the Creating IT Futures
Foundation in the Bay Area, showed the importance of soft skills to
people in those careers. Because things change so quickly in the
technical world, she said, people in IT jobs must have the soft
skills to build a network or find a mentor to help them transition
as skill requirements change. "Otherwise, they'll be left behind,"
For kids who aren't good students, getting
into the workplace gives them more of a sense of relevancy than they
might have had in school. Once they get into the workplaceand
see what they'd like to do long-term, Moncrief said, they have a
better understanding of what they must do in school to get there.
"But we screen for motivation," she said. "We look for kids who say,
'I know I want to do this program.'"
"Our students take on a lot of leadership
in their families and their communities," she said. "They tend to be
role models who inspire their younger siblings to be motivated in
Jumbe asserted that it's motivation, but
it's also environment. "Minnesota has not made a shift to really
value our immigrant communities and communities of color," she said.
"We have amazing corporate partners, but we do have some people who
don't appreciate working with the student population we serve. I'm
not sure Minnesota has done the work to figure out what the place is
for low-income students and students of color at our colleges, at
our schools and in our workplaces."
"Students need a stable home environment,
engaged teachers and boundaries," Jumbe continued. "We haven't yet
said what the things are that every young person needs to be a
healthy individual. It's a different world faced by low-income
Society sends the message that our schools
are bad and that the students are a problem to be solved and not a
resource to be tapped. "We don't give students the sense that
they are the brightest future we could possibly have," Jumbe
remarked. "We must get our community excited about working with
these young people and making them feel that they'll be the thing
that will save Minnesota 10, 15 or 20 years down the line."
Genesys Works wants to continue to grow
and wor with more students and more corporate partners. Moncrief
said the program is growing by 50 students a year, which is a
manageable rate of growth. Hayden said Genesys Works hopes others
will replicate what it does. "We look for places where we can help
other organizations get into similar work," Jumbe pointed out. "But
at this point, we don't imagine we're going to suddenly become the
answer for all Twin Cities students."
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman