Northeastern’s Oakland campus provides summer jobs, mentorship to Bay Area high school students

two people sitting next to each other talking about the Summer Youth Employment program
Site coordinator Rondy Isaac mentors Skyline High School student Victoria Pham. Photo by Justin Katigbak for Northeastern University

OAKLAND, Calif.—When Carrie Maultsby-Lute visited her dream college as a young woman, she wasn’t sure she belonged.

“I was intimidated,” she said.

Maultsby-Lute recounted those feelings to a group of high school students last week as part of the Mills College at Northeastern University’s Summer Youth Employment Program

Students, parents and mentors gathered at historic Mills Hall to celebrate the completion of five weeks of on-campus work and professional coaching with lunch, speeches and a certification ceremony.

“This is the first step on your academic journey,” Maultsby-Lute said.

As head of partnerships on Northeastern’s Oakland campus, Maultsby-Lute launched the program at Mills this year along with Alicia Sasser Modestino, research director for Northeastern’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.

The program is one of many initiatives conceived, funded and implemented by Northeastern’s Community to Community Impact Engine, a group of scholars, researchers, policymakers, students and community organizers who use research-driven analysis to drive social change through community partnerships.

The Impact Engine’s research shows that similar programs can have lasting benefits. Participating youth have better school attendance, test scores, graduation rates, less involvement with crime and are more likely to attend college, according to Modestino’s reports.

The high school participants from Oakland, San Leandro and Hayward, California, were selected to work 25 hours a week in the Sustainability, Farm, Facilities, Student Services and Upward Bound departments. 

Five of those hours were devoted to weekly college and career workshops, covering topics like college essay writing, resumes, interviewing, LinkedIn network building and financial literacy.

Led by Alli Chagi-Starr, regional director of the Community to Community Impact Engine, the Summer Youth Employment Program on the Oakland campus is an expansion of the Boston campus program, which employed 125 young people ages 14 to 18 this summer.

The Oakland students could clearly relate to Maultsby-Lute’s story—on the brink of high school graduation, trying to envision their futures. For many of them, without programs like Northeastern’s, college doesn’t seem realistic, much less attainable.

Teens from underserved communities

This is precisely what Chagi-Starr says the Summer Youth Employment Program aims to rectify: showing teens from underserved communities their educational and career possibilities by offering paid summer jobs—a financial necessity for low-income students—in a collegiate setting that grows their support system and professional network.

“Youth employment programs spark intergenerational relationships, provide a wealth-building opportunity for young people with economic barriers, while building confidence, and creating inroads to higher education opportunities and meaningful careers,” said Chagi-Starr, who hosted last week’s celebration.

For students such as Riyah Moore, the program was an opportunity to see what college life is like. In addition to working on the Oakland campus, she was mentored by Northeastern faculty, staff and students.

“I was talking to those students about how to get into college,” said the 16-year-old from Tennyson High School in Hayward, California.

Moore learned about Northeastern’s program from her high school counselor. Like many in Northeastern’s program, she developed confidence from her working relationship with mentor Jorge Rodriguez-Tower.

“Jorge made me laugh all day and noticed when something was wrong with me,” Moore said. 

A self-described “shy” person, Moore said she felt her communication skills got stronger and buoyed her intentions to go to Morgan State University in Maryland and become a neurosurgeon.

Rodriguez-Tower said he got just as much from working with Moore, who helped create training videos for future student employees.

“Riyah’s voice is on nine of them,” he said of Moore’s narration contributions.

Northeastern’s positive workplace culture

Itzel Parada, 17, worked alongside Moore and Rodriguez-Tower. Also a student at Tennyson High School, Parada found out about the program through her school counselor and enlisted the help of her older sister to help write a resume for the online application.

Parada was most surprised by Northeastern’s positive workplace culture, and how friendly everyone was.

“You’d be walking on the trails and people would always say, ‘Good morning!’” Parada said. “I thought it would be more isolating. It was a pleasant surprise.”

Mentor Luan Stauss oversaw students Camilly Calderwood and Angel Kherha. They tackled organizing records and hundreds of tubes of rolled-up blueprints dating to the 1920s.

“This document didn’t exist five weeks ago,” Stauss said, holding up the detailed inventory that Calderwood and Khera helped create by painstakingly identifying and labeling everything. “We did a lot of really boring counting, but they went at it with gusto,” Stauss said.

For Calderwood, the inventory was challenging but her mentor Stauss made it bearable, and meaningful, noting that their work significantly contributed to the college’s goal of digitizing records.

“Even when we were in the dusty old room, it was fun,” Calderwood said.

Victoria Pham, 17, was worried she couldn’t apply to work in the Northeastern program because the hours conflicted with another internship she had planned. The Skyline High School student contacted Chagi-Starr, who approved an earlier schedule so she could do both.

Communicating in a professional setting

Sending that email taught Pham a valuable lesson about communicating her needs in a professional setting.

“It’s important to reach out,” Pham said. “If I never talked to Alli, I feel like I’d never have gotten the position.”

Pham learned resume and Excel skills over the summer, along with financial literacy tips, like adding herself as an authorized user on her mother’s credit card to boost their credit ratings.

“My mom was really proud of me for that,” she said.

For Maultsby-Lute, she sees a lot of hope in Generation Z, which she said values diversity.

“I hope this experience enables you to want to learn even more,” she said to the students. “You belong here. You belong in college and on any campus you want to go to.”

Chagi-Starr is already planning for next year’s program, which, along with partner organizations like Lao Family Community Development and the City of Hayward, is poised to increase participants by deepening and expanding partnerships.

“Youth summer programs are an investment in the future and the right thing to do for universities, businesses, and cities,” she said.