The sound of computer parts clanking together fill the theater inside Seattle’s Triple Door Wednesday afternoon. Students from Year Up Puget Sound are on a mission to do one thing: build a PC as quickly as possible for John Stanton.
Three groups are working fast to fire up a PCs on three separate operating systems: Windows 7, Windows XP and Linux.
“We chose Windows 7 because it is the most popular operating system in the business community,” said 18-year-old Javion Smith. “It can run all the modern applications and has Windows XP mode, so it can run the legacy applications Mr. Stanton needs to use.”
Stanton, the founding member of Trilogy Partnership, didn’t actually have a computer problem. Rather, the faux repair session was part of Year Up Puget Sound’s first annual Professional Olympics fundraiser, designed to demonstrate what skills students in the program have acquired.
Year Up, founded in 2000, is a national non-profit organization with regional offices around the nation. Its mission is to find urban young adults aged 18-to-24 and provide them with the skills and experience needed for professional careers and higher education they may have never found elsewhere.
Students begin with six months of classes and receive training in everything from how to build a computer to interview training to how to dress business professional. After that, students are placed into internships for another six months with local corporate partners like Microsoft, Nordstrom, Zillow and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They earn up to 18 college credits in the process and most go on to hold down full time jobs or enroll in college to earn their degree.
On Wednesday, those from Year Up Puget Sound’s fifth and sixth classes stood in front of judges on stage and built computer hardware, answered interview questions and pitched investors on their technology-related idea. As part of the Olympics-style event, co-chaired by Year Up Puget Sound board members Robbie and Pauline Bach, they were awarded medals for their performances.
Stanton, the Year Up Puget Sound Board Chair, said that while these aren’t the students that graduated high school with 4.0 GPA’s and excellent SAT scores, they very well could have been if given the opportunity.
“Virtually all of our students are below the poverty line and many have been victims of crime, domestic abuse or had problems with drugs or alcohol,” Stanton said. “Now they are looking for an opportunity. When I speak to every class, I tell them about adversity. For the most part, they have had more adversity in their lives than I had in mine — and I’m three times their age.”
Stanton said it’s that toughness quality that can separate them from others competing for similar jobs.
“We look at all kinds of startups at Trilogy and see how many are started, frankly, by Caucasian young men who have gone to great schools,” he explained. “But I look at these kids and they’ve got the skills and qualities in terms of overcoming challenges that make them in many ways as qualified or more qualified to be entrepreneurs. It’s really exciting.”
Jerome Miles, a 20-year-old from Federal Way who will graduate from Year Up this January, was working at Best Buy just after graduating high school when he first heard about Year Up. It’s clear that the past ten months have jumpstarted his career tremendously.
“If I didn’t do Year Up, I’d probably still be working in retail, not networking and not putting myself out there,” said Miles, who interns with the technology infrastructure team at Perkins Coie. “Year Up has definitely been a good choice for me.”
The same goes for Jasmin Lopez Reyes, a 19-year-old who didn’t have much of a plan after graduating from Lake Stevens High School. Now she’s an intern at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“This has taught me so much more than you can learn in a normal college class,” Reyes said. “I’ve really grown professionally. It’s helped me be more confident and have the confidence to know that I can go into any environment, work hard and be rewarded.”
Year Up is certainly an exciting program that identifies talented youth and also helps companies fill positions. Lisa Chin, Year Up Puget Sound executive director, is passionate about starting a new way to think about education, talent and community.
“The movement we’re trying to build is to find these young people and go into the cities where they are and say, ‘I see you and see your talent and I will connect you with those networks that will get you those jobs,’” she said. “By doing that, we reaffirm their talent and self-worth. When they got to these employer partners, we help them redefine what they see is talent.
“Out of that comes a movement, a new definition of who’s talented and who has the right to prosper, and who is our community, what is education, what does it look like, and what does a thriving community look like. That’s part of this movement.”