In a Nutshell: Colleges teach students how to succeed in their careers, but that success often requires much more than knowledge. That’s why Braven provides first-generation, low-income, and minority students with training in professional skills, leadership, networking, and other critical areas. The organization accomplishes that through for credit college courses and additional programs, all of which increase opportunities to land quality jobs right out of college. Support from mentors, coaches, and fellow students helps young professionals make the most of their college years and start their careers on solid financial footing.
Gabriel graduated from college in the spring of 2020 amid a pandemic and a recession. He applied for nearly 200 jobs and received nothing but rejections.
Feeling stressed, he reached out to Katie and West, his Leadership Coach and Professional Mentor, respectively, at Braven. The organization connects students and graduates with educational resources and professional training to transition into a career.
Katie and West helped Gabriel brainstorm new avenues for his job search, and he accessed their professional networks, allowing him to reach new contacts and opportunities. Thanks to a connection made through West’s boss, he landed his first job at Amazon leading a team of 50 workers.
Gabriel found a job, but it wasn’t easy. His success was due, in part, to the support and assistance he received through Braven.
“There’s a misconception that if you get into and graduate from college, you’ll be set up for success,” said Kasia Kalata, Braven Director of Communications and Marketing. “Every year, 1.2 million first-generation or low-income students enter college, but only 25% of them will graduate and land a strong job or enroll in graduate school.”
The cost of college also contributes to those problems. Some students receive scholarships that help them graduate at little or no cost, but many more take on student debt to pay for their degrees. After college, those who take out student loans face the pressure of finding a job to pay off debt quickly so they can begin saving for homes, retirement, and other passions. Many first-generation, minority, and low-income students may not have the tools needed to find a job that allows them to start that path.
Braven addresses the educational and career iniquities caused by a lack of skills and cultural capital. Its credited college courses and additional programs teach career readiness and networking in classrooms, one on one with mentors, and through hands-on experience in internships.
“Our North Star outcome is set around strong first jobs within six months of graduation,” said Lorraine Anderson King, Head of External Affairs at Braven.
Courses Expand Professional Skills and Networks
Braven’s courses and support are currently available to students attending San Jose State University in San Francisco, National Louis University in Chicago, Rutgers University at Newark, and Lehman College in New York City. Its programs aim to eliminate barriers that limit employment opportunities after graduation.
The Braven Accelerator course began as a hybrid, in-person and online model, but it went completely virtual in 2020. Despite the format change, the program is still a 15-week course that enables students to earn college credit while gaining valuable knowledge and experience.
Its learning outcomes can include improved job skills and competencies, personal confidence, enhanced problem-solving abilities, and an expanded personal network.
“One portion of the experience that I’ve heard students love is Storytelling as Leadership,” Kalata said. “That’s where they learn to own the power of their story. For instance, Dyllan was a student at Rutgers University who wanted to be a lawyer but didn’t realize that things he had done like filling out immigration papers for his family were strengths and not things to be embarrassed by. He learned to harness the power of his story and is now he’s a law student.”
The course’s capstone is a project in which students work with high-profile employers who pitch them a real-world problem the company is facing. Students devise solutions, providing a valuable problem-solving experience.
“Then they can put it on their résumé and talk about that experience in their future job interviews,” Kalata said.
Coaching and Mentorship Can Lead to Employment
Braven Leadership Coaches guide students through their coursework. These professionals help five to eight students at a time and have weekly group meetings.
Students have access to professional mentorship through a separate 15-week program. Learners pair with a mentor in their career field who helps them navigate job searches.
“We have a lot of employees coming through to volunteer, and we’ve seen a real uptick this year in terms of interest in volunteering,” King said.
That interest also leads outside employers to partner with Braven. Its partners are often interested in Braven’s approach to fostering leadership in young workers. Many organizations view its professional development pipeline as a way to acquire rising talent and diversify their staff.
“We’re seeing companies like Prudential request that as interesting professional development for their employees who are about to step into leadership roles. It helps them become strong, inclusive leaders,” King said.
Prudential’s headquarters is three blocks from Rutgers in Newark, and it provides 25% of the Braven coaches for that program. Braven also offers a more local talent pool, and Prudential has hired 15 graduates into full-time, entry-level positions or internships.
“The employer engagement and volunteer opportunities often allow companies to create an organic way for employers to meet students and see how talented they are. That leads to a lot of hiring,” King said.
Career Preparation Opens Doors to High-Quality Positions
Braven’s criteria for a quality first job are reasonably straightforward. It must be full time, require a BA-level education, and then have a combination of offering a salary of $50,000 or more per year, benefits, and room for advancement.
“It varies a little bit by the industry, but that’s the benchmark we use,” King said. “Then we want to know if the job has promotion pathways, and helps you build health and wealth through benefits, including a 401k.”
The focus on quality sets students on positive career paths that can reduce their loan debt — not to mention stress. That can also put them on the right path to take on productive debt, including a home loan, and start saving for retirement. Braven’s assistance enables graduates to enjoy a higher quality of life and maximize their education.
In 2020, positions were increasingly difficult to come by — as Gabriel discovered. That’s why Braven launched the Career Booster Program, which prepares graduating seniors to secure those strong first jobs.
This two-week interactive program is offered online and condenses the full Braven course into a short crash course. It focuses on creating strong résumés and online professional profiles, networking and interviewing, and contingency planning in an uncertain market.
The program consists of two modules. The first addresses applications, portfolios, and contingency planning, while the second is devoted to networking and interviewing. The webinars include group coaching and peer practice on preparing for the job search, applying to positions, networking, and interviewing.
Students who complete the program gain access to Booster Bonuses, including the Braven National Network, and one-on-one coaching sessions with professionals.
Expanding to Serve More First-Generation and Low-Income College Students
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 70% of Braven students would land a quality first job six months after graduation, according to King. That compares favorably with 56% of all graduates, on average, across the country and 49% of Black and Latinx graduates nationally.
“We also look at persistence in internships as leading indicators, and we’re seeing about 73% of our fellows having at least one internship in college,” King said.
Braven is committed to helping even more students in the future. Its goal is to complement educational success with professional preparation, both of which students can leverage to help pay off their student loan debt and achieve financial independence. The first step in Braven’s process is growing the program’s footprint at its partner universities.
“We started with 17 students at San Jose State University. We now, in a year, serve around 400 at that university,” King said. “And we’re working with our school partners to grow that to around 1,000 students per year. In this economic moment, students are even more cognizant of needing additional support to get that first job.”
Of course, students in need don’t exclusively attend the schools partnered with Braven. The organization is also planning to expand its offering into other regions between 2025 and 2030.
“We’re looking at universities that tend to be large, public universities where there are many first-generation students and students from low-income backgrounds,” King said. “Then, we are looking for partners in metropolitan areas where there is a large employer ecosystem but inequities in terms of how students find employment after they graduate.”