On a scorching week day in late summer, rising Fairfax County seniors Kenneth Smith, Amy Wong and Tasmia Dia were taking cumulative review tests in their summer course. This wasn’t exactly summer school, though.
They were dressed in sharp business attire, and they weren’t at any school. The trio were among the first batch of 44 students to go through the Genesys Works job training and internship placement program’s office in Tysons Corner.
The organization partners with businesses to offer work opportunities to underprivileged students. Some of the partners include AT&T, Accenture, Ernst & Young, Kirkland & Ellis, Intelsat and Strayer Education.
“Being that it’s considered one of, if not the richest, county in the entire country, people don’t recognize the significant need that exists in Fairfax County,” said Mahan Tavakoli, executive director for the National Capital Region of Genesys Works.
Many of these students may not have another family member who’s gone to college, or haven’t seen the opportunity to work in a professional environment.
For the first year’s recruitment, Tavakoli said they chose from high schools with the highest percentage of students eligible for free and reduced meals.
“Our goal is to change that trajectory,” Tavakoli said. “To show them they have the potential to advance their education.”
More than 98 percent of Genesys Works student interns enroll in college after completing the program and internship. Ninety-four percent of program graduates stay in college after their freshman year and 84 percent are the first in their family to go onto college.
This year, the participating students came from Mount Vernon, West Potomac, Lee, Falls Church, South Lakes and JEB Stuart High Schools.
THE MAIN COMPONENTS of Genesys’ program include an eight-week training period, at the conclusion of which they may be offered a one-year, part-time paid internship with a partner company, as well as college and career coaching.
For Tasmia Dia, now a senior at South Lakes High School, her parents went to college, but in their native Bangladesh.
“I look forward to getting help with essays, getting skills I can use anywhere and improving myself,” she said.
The training focuses on professional skills such as public speaking, teamwork and networking, and Information Technology: computer and network troubleshooting, hardware and software upgrades, and help desk support.
“IT ends up being place where organizations end up relying on the students,” Tavakoli said.
Dia said she never thought businesses would hire teens and trust them to do tech work.
“It breaks the idea of what teens are,” she said. “It’s kind of intimidating, and takes me out of my comfort zone.”
Amy Wong from Mount Vernon High School was surprised like Dia. “It shows a lot of respect,” she said. “I’m glad they trust us. It’s a really great experience and chance to do this.”
Dia, Wong and current West Potomac High School senior Kenneth Smith all said they wanted to improve their interpersonal skills as well as develop tech field knowledge.
“I’ve been more shy,” Wong said, “but the public speaking is making me come out of my shell.”
“Working with adults, I already have experience, but this is building a foundation to go off of,” said Smith. “You have to communicate well with others, plan ahead and separate tasks equally.”
Smith said the field itself was relatively new to him when he started with Genesys Works, but is now considering working in IT.
“The Genesys Works highly trained interns provide tremendous value to their employers,” George Newstrom, vice president and general manager for Dell Services Federal Government, said in a statement.
Newstrom is also a Genesys founding board chair: “Our business economy is based on highly skilled, professional employees and Genesys Works is a partner that ensures a win-win for the students and the employers.”
Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Karen Garza became an advocate for bringing Genesys Works to northern Virginia after seeing its success in Houston, where the organization first began operating.
“Our mission at Fairfax County Public Schools is to help equip students with the necessary skills for success in our rapidly changing and interconnected world,” Garza said in a statement.
“Genesys Works shares this mission and our work together will grow and increase our impact,” Garza continued. “I look forward to hearing the stories of our students who participate in these workplace internships and who go on to achieve their dreams.”
GENESYS has four other locations around the country, including Chicago, the Twin Cities in Minnesota and California’s Bay area. Tavakoli said this summer in Tysons Corner marked the largest starting group for any of the sites.
Tavakoli said by the second week of September, all but a handful of the program graduates from this summer had earned internships. Those remaining were just waiting to confirm assignments.
For more information, visit www.genesysworks.org.