Spotlight: BridgeYear

Spotlight on Houston Social Impact Organizations

On February 15, 2019, Rachel Littman ‘91, Chair of YANA Houston Chapter and YANA Executive Director, spent time with Victoria Chen SOM ‘17, a Teach for America alumna and co-founder and president of BridgeYear, at one of their Career Test Drive Fairs held at Westbury High School in Southwest Houston, TX. BridgeYear focuses on connecting underserved populations to education and employment. A majority of the population they serve are Black or Hispanic/Latino, and qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch. BridgeYear believes that students from underserved communities who are not on a pathway to college deserve to have pathways to economic mobility and independence after high school.  The organization uses unique Career Test Drive fairs to expose students to real-world career opportunities, and then provides them with text-based and one-on-one advising for those who are interested in post secondary opportunities.

The BridgeYear Test Drive Fairs are not your ordinary career fairs. No tables of bored looking adults talking to equally bored students.  These fairs are mobile, hands-on labs that allow students to try on different careers (typically middle-skill jobs picked for high-growth employment opportunity, pay at least living wage, and are attainable with less than a Bachelor’s degree) through realistic simulations.  Think learning to draw blood from a mannequin for a sense of what it would be like to be a phlebotomist, or fixing an electrical circuit so a lightbulb can be turned on, just as a real electrician would do. Each Career Test Drive simulation is accompanied by a paid staff member that teaches the simulation, large sample resumes for someone in the field, and handy cards with visual career path steps to get to the career, complete with average salaries and growth expectations. BridgeYear puts on these day-long events at local schools and non-profits all over the Houston area.  Last school year BridgeYear held fairs at 20 schools, serving 1,800 students. This year they expect to be at 30 schools and serve upwards of 4,000 students.

BridgeYear yields about 88% of students from these Career Fairs who respond to advisors and work with them for six months following high school graduation to ensure a smooth transition to their next step, whether vocational training, community college, or a job.  Around 90% of students surveyed after they attended a Career Fair said they had learned about a new career or had gained a better understanding about a specific career. Ultimately, BridgeYear is about helping traditionally over-looked kids feel hopeful about their career paths and confident in their future.

Next steps for BridgeYear?  Securing permanent office and warehousing space and developing stronger relationships with area employers interested in developing more Career Test Drive modules and mentoring and hiring students.  For more information or to get involved, go to https://www.bridge-year.org/.

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