AT&T & Rutgers on Solving the Dropout Crisis

Nearly one-half of Black and Latino youth combined in the United States fail to graduate from high school, researchers at Northeastern University have found, leading to poverty and unemployment and threatening the U.S. competitiveness in the global economy.

“But the work force of our future is predicated on a quality applicant pool that’s a diversified one,” says Cathy Martine, executive vice president of AT&T small-business solutions and alternate channels (No. 4 in The 2011 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity). “It’s our commitment around the country … to help mentor and provide support to inner-city communities to allow these kids to see there is a future.”

That’s why AT&T Foundation recently pledged $150,000 to the Rutgers Future Scholars Program, an initiative aimed at building a constant talent pipeline of Blacks, Latinos and other youth from low-income communities for corporations nationwide. Read how Rutgers Future Scholars and Ernst & Young partnered to enhance talent pipelines.

“Companies are coming to grips with the fact that they are a part of the solution and have a means to make a change,” says DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti, who sits on the Rutgers Board of Trustees and co-chairs the fundraising committee for the Rutgers Future Scholars Program.

Each year, about 200 promising seventh-graders—50 from each of Rutgers’ host communities of Camden, Newark, New Brunswick and Piscataway, N.J.—are selected based on academic performance to receive summer and school-year classes, tutoring, career counseling and more. Scholars who graduate, apply to Rutgers University and are admitted will receive free tuition and continued educational support.The first group of scholars is expected to graduate in 2017.

AT&T, which has contributed $185,000 over the past two years to this program alone, recognizes that filling its pipeline with a diverse slate of talent drives innovation. AT&T’s work force is 38 percent Black, Latino, Asian and American Indian, versus 34 percent nationally (EEOC). Another major sponsor of the Rutgers Future Scholars Program is The Merck Company Foundation, which has pledged $750,000 over five years. The foundation’s mission: “to assist in meeting the responsibilities of a good corporate citizen to the charitable, educational and other worthwhile needs of the communities in which it lives.” Merck & Co. is No. 15 on the 2011 DiversityInc Top 50.

“It’s about identifying kids early enough where they can see a career path within our company. Clearly, the area of technical capability is one we continue to emphasize,” says Martine, noting that these scholars will become AT&T’s recruitment feeder pool for computer science, engineering, technical sales and other jobs.

Skilled Talent on Tap

Many of the currently enrolled 400 Rutgers Future Scholars will become the first in their immediate families to attend college. That’s the case for El Salvador native Alvaro J. Escalante, a ninth-grade scholar who took the leadership initiative to launch a 45-student Rutgers Future Scholars Club at Piscataway High School. Although he’s still waiting for approval from the district, the club’s mission will be to help fellow students who are struggling academically stay in this rigorous program through instructor and peer support.

“If you have the desire to succeed, this program is there to help,” says Alvaro, who hopes to one day become a lawyer.

The program increases participants’ academic engagement and performance, improves time-management skills and spurs career planning. “We’re trying to enrich what these students are learning within the classroom and connect it to the world of work,” says Program Director Aramis Gutierrez. From getting exposure to the college-campus environment to developing good study habits and analytical-thinking skills, students learn “all of the things that are transferable to any and every career,” he says. Scholars who “stay the course” can potentially graduate from high school with 15 or more college credits in career-related courses. All sponsorship funds are allocated to student support, including instructor salaries, transportation, research projects, facilities and learning/lab materials.

AT&T views the program as an investment in intellectual capital. “A lot of these kids have not seen what a company is like. They don’t know what the future could hold for them if they work hard in high school,” says Martine, who sits on the program’s advisory board and has worked closely with at-risk youth in Chicago. “We need to provide an avenue for college, and this Rutgers program is extraordinary because it’s our belief that [it] could become a national program.”

Building a Blueprint

The goal of this collaborative effort, which includes public and private sponsors, school districts and institutions, is to build a model that can be rolled out nationwide. “Giving opportunities to children who are economically disadvantaged doesn’t stop at New Jersey’s borders. This program has a huge national potential,” says Visconti.

Coming soon: A web portal that will aggregate the best practices of similar initiatives across the country. By sharing relevant articles, curriculum and student success stories with corporations, educators and institutions, the Rutgers Future Scholars Program can be cloned in other cities with high populations of at-risk students. “What we’re doing is easily replicable,” says the program director.

Identifying potential talent and giving at-risk youth an opportunity is the key “to helping people find a way out of a life that’s one of gangs, violence, drug abuse and other things that happen when people don’t see another choice,” says Martine. “Ultimately, we have to have people to be able to be self-sufficient and productive in society—and the only way for that to happen is education.”

To help fund this program, e-mail Visconti at lvisconti@DiversityInc.com. For more information, visit www.futurescholars.rutgers.edu. 

2 Comments

  • Anonymous

    This venture is a sorely needed resource in many communities throughout NJ. Kudos to Rutgers, Merck, Xerox and AT&T on such a worthwhile investment in ALL of our futures.

  • Anonymous

    Great article! I would like additional information to forward to our program directors with College Bound,located in Washington,DC.In addtion, I work at a Middle School in Mont.Co.,Md.with a majority hispanic population,and this program could be an inspiration for higher academic attainment amoung the “at risk” population at the school.Please apprise and continue the great work.

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