By Christine Collins
The telecommunications giant is $250 million into a $350 million commitment to its Aspire program, which works through Junior Achievement to reach thousands of students across the country.
Through Aspire and JA, AT&T brings students from underserved populations, grades 8 – 12, into the workplace to get a first-hand look at a career option. Mentorship is a key part of the initiative, but the program’s primary goal is to encourage students to finish high school.
Capital States Mentoring Coordinator Carolyn Thompson said the driving force, for her, was the high dropout rate in the DC and Baltimore metro area.
“We pledged a million hours to make sure we instill programs in our schools across the nation that would benefit to fundamentally alter what education is and how important it is to have an education,” Thompson said. “So we reached out and partnered with Junior Achievement to help us reach these goals.”
Thompson runs two student sessions per year—one each semester. About 50 students attend each time.
“Some students may not have had strong positive role models in their daily lives,” Junior Achievement of Central Maryland President and CEO Jennifer Bodensiek said in a March 2017 interview. “If this is the case, it can be harder for students to visualize success. With AT&T we are giving students the opportunity to be exposed to different paths and to help them see that they too can achieve a rewarding career.”
The connection between education and this encouragement is obvious. Education leads to opportunity, which leads to health care and income and better options for a future. When students first arrive, Thompson said, some inevitably seem disinterested. But she personally connects with every student who comes through, and by the end, she said, they’re raising their hands, asking her questions about what they could do if they worked for AT&T.
“You see in their eyes that they want more,” she said. “It allows them to discover what their careers may be, what they want to do.
“I tell them, ‘Whatever you want to be, don’t let anyone take that away from you. Strive for it.’”
Thompson has been with AT&T for 20 years. Ask her for her title and she’ll say she’s an executive assistant. That’s true. Ask again and you get more. She runs the mentoring program in the region. She’s also on the board of the Women of AT&T.
“If Carolyn’s not there, it doesn’t happen,” Couch said.
Junior Achievement helps find and coordinate the student visits to the Aspire program. In JA-partnered efforts alone, Thompson said, AT&T has reached 100,000 young people nationwide. In the 12 years Thompson has been involved, it has touched about 2,400 students in the region.
“I tell them, ‘If you need something from me, if you want a little assurance, call me,’” Thompson said. “I’ll tell you to keep going, keep pushing. I want you to be successful.”
Through hundreds of programs like Aspire with Junior Achievement, AT&T employees rack up their volunteer hours, according to Senior Public Relations Manager Dawn Couch. It’s a way AT&T encourages community involvement.
The next Aspire session will be in the fall, when about 50 more greater Baltimore students will find out what it means to connect with AT&T and Junior Achievement.