Graduation at Urban Alliance
By Thomas Heath
A group of Washington area businesses that takes about 150 D.C. public high school students each year and helps prepare them for the professional world held a commencement ceremony Thursday morning at George Washington University.
The group is known as the Urban Alliance and has 80 Washington area companies, including Bernstein Cos., Atlantic Media, CapitalSource, Clark Construction, XM Radio and The Washington Post Co. Each business pays $9,500 a year per student. Some goes to training workshops on the business world, and the rest goes to paying the students for their work. They work at the companies 15 hours a week during the school year and 40 hours a week during the summer.
More than 1,000 students have been involved in the program since it started 12 years ago. It has a 99 percent on-time high school graduation rate. The vast majority go on to college.
"We are trying to introduce these students to the professional world," said Nick Kilavos, director of corporate finance at CapitalSource, which has mentored four students in four years. "We are hoping to establish them with a skill set."
John Gass, 18, who just graduated from H.D. Woodson High School and interned at CapitalSource, said, "The most important thing I learned was interacting in a business environment." Gass will attend the University of Missouri, where he plans to study journalism.
Laurie Smith, a librarian at Bethesda-based United BioSource, assists interns with their college applications and helps them get comfortable using computers.
Walter Woods, a program officer at the World Bank, helped mentor 33 interns this year, including a Cameroon native who is creating a documentary on the effect on African economies of money sent back home by workers in the United States.
The Urban Alliance was co-founded by Jeffrey and Mary Zients and Andrew Plepler, president of the Bank of America Foundation.
"It's always been amazing to me how little time and money it actually takes to change the course of a young person's life," Urban Alliance chair Mary Zients said.
Jeffrey Zients directed the initial public offering of the Corporate Executive Board and the Advisory Board. He now runs an investment fund called PortfolioLogic.
For every program dollar the students save up to $1,000, the Urban Alliance puts aside $3 to help defray college expenses. The student's savings plus the match can total $4,000.
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