CAMDEN, NJ — The newly-minted partnership of two organizations designed to connect Camden students to employers and colleges and provide access to career opportunities came together in a fitting way.
A chance to network arose at a recent national STEM Ecosystems conference in New Orleans for Pastor Keith Davis, director of the Camden Dream Center, and Casey Welch, president and CEO of Tallo. They served as members of a panel on workforce and leveling the playing field for all students.
Welch presented a question: How do we create a way where STEM students can be recognized for their abilities and lead that into careers?
"Whatever that might be. If it’s to go to a two-year or four-year route, maybe it’s military, or directly into the workforce," Welch said.
He recalls Davis saying that the idea seemed like something that could greatly benefit his operation in Camden, where students were getting the tools for success but didn't have a link to the post-secondary education or employer side.
With Tallo’s social-networking platform built around helping students bridge the gap to STEM-related careers, it seemed a natural fit.
Announced last week, the partnership between the Dream Center and Tallo allows students older than 13 to create a free Tallo account, which they can use for tracking skills and connecting with thousands of workforce and educational opportunities across the country.
"We discovered that there’s a lot of synergy between their mission and ours, and it made a lot of sense," said Davis, who founded the center in 1997 with the aim of promoting STEM awareness, education, and career pathways while helping improve the Camden community.
As Welch puts it, the platform is a career fair “365 days a year.”
The system created by Tallo — a name derived from "talent" and "locator" — gives students the ability to showcase all of their achievements, more than just test scores and grades in an ever-competitive environment. Welch saw how that could benefit the Dream Center.
“These students were getting certifications in IT fields and they were doing other great things. And that’s what Tallo really strives to do: how do we show the whole picture of the student?" Welch said. "Grades are part of that, scores are part of that, but so is involvement, so are extracurriculars, so are the essential skills, their volunteerism.”
With a profile created, the students become visible to these organizations looking at specific interests, goals, and career fields. Making connections will show a young person that they are needed and sought after, even to stay local when possible, Welch said.
It can make all the difference in an area marked by socioeconomic struggles. According to Data USA, the median household income in Camden is just over $26,000 per year. The Dream Center notes that 40% of residents live in poverty and 33% have no high school diploma.
Davis, a leader with the South Jersey STEM & Innovation Partnership, acknowledged the need for a modern system connecting students to endless options. And Welch describes the potential connections as starting with a simple direct message.
“(Employers) can say, ‘Hey, we saw your profile, we’re interested in you, we’d love to tell you about this internship,’” Welch said. “Or maybe direct them down a path into the company that’s a two-year path or a direct certificate right in.
“We want to make sure (the students) are aware of those opportunities. We don’t tell them which path to go, but we do feel it’s really important to know that there’s more than one path for every student,” he said.
As a Cisco Network Academy, the Dream Center does currently have a career-matching platform called Talent Bridge. But this only reaches to the “academy population,” Davis said, and not outside of that framework.
“Tallo addresses science, engineering, mathematics, a more broad swath of disciplines in the STEM field,” said Davis, a 40-year business vet who said technology is “part of my DNA.”
More importantly, Welch said, the platform helps in the first steps for students who might have the background but aren’t as strong in marketing themselves as others.
He likened it to the situation of a budding athlete destined for stardom among peers with dreams of another kind: everyone knows of the 7-foot eighth grader that can dunk a basketball, but “what about the welder, the technician, the nurse, the engineer?”
“Sports does a great job in giving platforms to showcase; academics and technical abilities didn’t,” Welch said. “That was really what we started out here, filling that gap.”
More than half a million students across the country use Tallo, in nearly two out of every three schools. The platform is also active at many two-year and four-year colleges, working locally and nationally with companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and BMW.
In partnering with the Dream Center, Welch stressed the uniqueness of an educational resource that prepares youth for a myriad of future plans, be it continued education, armed forces, or the job market.
“Those paths are all created equal, it’s not one that’s better than the other, and they just foster and facilitate that the whole way through,” he said. “We need all those different types of talent.”