Newark, NJ—For the last two years, University High School senior Nasia Spencer has been attending a program designed to prepare the city's youth for college and career. She's learned how to write a resume and cover letter and had an opportunity to hone her interview skills with three different companies.

“While being in this program I gained helpful interview skills for before, during, and after the interview,” Spencer said. “I also gained insight on what is relevant to put on a resume and how to write a cover letter that relates to the position I'm interviewing for. I now feel more prepared to go into interviews.”

That's exactly the goal of the Bridging the Education to Employment (e2e) Gap Program launched in 2015 by Schools That Can Newark—a nonprofit organization that includes a national network of more than 180 district, charter and independent schools serving predominantly low-income students.

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"There can sometimes be a real disconnect between our youth and some of the employers who work here,” said Erin Sweeney, the executive director of Schools That Can Newark. “Students look at the workers downtown, passing between various office towers and wonder what all goes on in those companies. They might not see themselves as being potential employees there or might think these jobs are only for people from out-of-town."

Through the e2e program, STC Newark secures externships representing a broad range of careers in a variety of sectors including finance, law, urban planning and nonprofit, among others.

Students are guided through the full spectrum of the hiring process—reviewing job descriptions, preparing resumes and cover letters and interviewing—then complete a one-day externship along with participating in a variety of workshops, including a full-day program at Newark-based law firm McCarter & English LLP,  where students receive one-on-one help with resumes and cover letters.

Fifty juniors and seniors from 10 Newark high schools are currently taking part in the five-month program, which began earlier this year and will be completed next month.

This year’s participating high schools include American History High School; Bard High School Early College; Cristo Rey Newark High School; Great Oaks Legacy Charter High School; Malcolm X Shabazz High School; People’s Prep Charter School; UPLIFT Academy; University High School; Weequahic High School; and West Side High School.

Last week, externship hosts interviewed students during the program's Interview and Networking Night at Newark’s Bard High School Early College, where students took part in career readiness and interview prep workshops led by volunteers from Newark-based Prudential Financial.

Sweeney said the idea for the program was generated from several high schools in the STC network who were looking for better ways to connect students with area employers and companies.

At the same time, Sweeney said many companies want to engage with high school students, to get more students on pathways into careers in their companies. But often times, the companies don't have the ability to connect with students.

"Bridging the e2e Gap is designed specifically to create that connection so that students learn about and imagine themselves in careers available here in Newark while employers get to meet Newark students and build direct relationships with local high schools,” Sweeney said.

The program now has a waiting list of schools wanting to participate.

“Students love it," Sweeney said. "They take the process very seriously and really grow throughout the program. We see students gain confidence, build their communication skills and broaden their knowledge of potential careers about which they didn't previously know. Employers love it because it allows them to share what they love with students who are hungry to learn more about what is out there. It also gives them a glimpse into the reality of how great Newark high school students are."

People’s Prep Community Charter School Program Coordinator Amy Pozmantier Eberly, one of the creators of the program, said students from the school have participated since its inception.

“Our students have been able to extern with companies and businesses that they wouldn't be exposed to through our school or internship program, as many of the businesses are outside of Newark,” Pozmantier Eberly said. “Last year, one of the companies had such a great time with one of our students that they invited him to their staff bowling event after work that day. He wouldn't stop talking about how fun that was, and he may have not realized it at the time, but he was building some great communication and networking skills by attending that event on top of the externship.”

McCarter & English, who hosted this year's e2e workshop and luncheon, first partnered with STC in 2016.

"I think it is crucial to introduce students as early as possible to the ever-evolving world of resume and interview best practices, and making it less intimidating for them," said McCarter & English Associate Meredith Walsh, who is also a member of the STC Advisory Board.

"I enjoy breaking complex concepts down and making them easily understandable, and this internship/coaching program is an effective vehicle to deliver the knowledge and experience to the students without them worrying about failure or pressure," Walsh said. "I am amazed at the dedication and professionalism of these participating students and the commitment of their teachers who work very hard to get the students through the program."

McCarter & English In-House Training Coordinator Sandra Cummins noted the success of partnership.

"It’s a lot of fun having the students visit us," Cummins said. "Many of our lawyers and other professionals come to assist the students review and edit their cover letters and resumes. Everyone really enjoys having the opportunity to work with such motivated students. It is rewarding to be able to step out of the everyday routine and spend an hour or so working with the students who are in the program. I believe they enjoy having the opportunity to take a look inside a law firm, and to work one-on-one with our professionals."

Cummins said the program has also afforded her the opportunity to directly connect with Newark residents.

"I’ve worked at the Newark office of McCarter & English for more than 25 years, and our involvement with Schools That Can has provided an opportunity for me to interact on a personal level with residents of the city in a way that I had not previously," Cummins said. "It really is a collaborative effort to which each person brings their own special skills. Our program has grown remarkably over the past three years and we look forward to continuing to offer an excellent program in coming years."

Sweeney noted the positive impact created by the partnerships.

“I know the impact lasts because every few weeks while I am out and about in Newark, I will run into a student who participated last year and they always tell me what they have been up to or how this program has helped them get a job, internship, or be more prepared for the real-world,” she said.

“It is so wonderful to see how students are not just passing through this program, but are engaged with it and how what they learn in this program sticks with them. We are already looking at ways to partner with other organizations in Newark to try to expand it even more in future years," Sweeney said. "We would love to see all Newark high school students have this opportunity so that all students are graduating with resumes, cover letters and some externship experience.”