Published: April 25, 2014
A former warehouse and factory worker, Gustavo Santana didn’t have a college degree when he applied to become a technology support specialist for MIT’s Executive MBA program. What he did have—thanks to MIT Sloan and a job training and internship program called Year Up—was on-the-job experience.
Since 2005, MIT Sloan has partnered with Year Up to provide internships for young adults from underprivileged backgrounds. Santana joined the program in 2010, was matched with an internship in Sloan Technology Services, and a year later became a permanent MIT employee.
“This is exactly what you want an internship to be. Each side testing out the other. It worked out really well. He was clearly the best candidate,” said Jonathan Lehrich, program director for the EMBA program, who hired Santana.
To date, MIT Sloan has hosted 16 Year Up interns and the program has spread across campus, with interns working at the MIT School of Architecture and Planning and in Information Systems and Technology. MIT Sloan was the first school at the Institute to participate in the program, which provides low-income adults, ages 18 to 24, with a combination of hands-on skills development, college credits, and corporate internships in information technology and finance. Students spend six months in skills training followed by six months in a professional internship.
“I would never have been here if I hadn’t gone through the program,” said Santana, who was homeless for a couple of months during his internship, yet continued to come to work every day. “[Year Up] opens doors.”
Sloan Technology Services takes on a new Year Up intern every six months, according to Jean Reale, who coordinates MIT Sloan’s partnership with the organization in her role as technology support services manager. “The way our internship has been really successful is that we actually built the role into the team structure,” she said.
At Sloan Technology Services, the Year Up intern is the first point of contact for people who need computer assistance. The intern diagnoses problems, helps students and faculty with connectivity issues, and directs more complex problems to the right staff member. “This is not just an extra person here to answer phones. When the intern is not here, it leaves a gap,” Reale said.
The department’s current intern, Kenny Verlus, dropped out of college. Unsure of what he wanted to do for a career and with school loans piling up, he went to work as a security guard. A former teacher who knew of his interest in computers encouraged him to apply to Year Up.
“The experience has been great. I’ve learned a great a deal,” Verlus said. “[MIT is] a great environment. I think it’s a great networking opportunity, a great place to work.”
Founded in Boston in 2000, Year Up has expanded to 12 cities nationwide and now has more than 250 corporate and government partners. According to Koby A. Rotstein, director of corporate partnerships and internships for Year Up in Boston, 85 percent of students are employed within four months of completing the program.
“If it wasn't for a group like Sloan, it wouldn’t work. We provide the training, but if companies didn’t step up and provide that second half of their education, this program would have folded long ago,” Rotstein said. “MIT Sloan has really provided a great platform for [Year Up students] to get introduced to what else is possible.”