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BigIdea: Experience, Enrich, Explore


This is the second post in NYCEDC's BigIdea series, which highlights efforts by participants in the NYC BigApps competition to solve some of New York City's biggest issues.

NYC BigApps is a civic innovation competition that empowers the sharpest minds in tech, design, and business to solve NYC's toughest challenges. By calling attention to community organizations and leaders who are working daily to improve the city, the program asksHow can we use technology to make a better New York City? What does New York City's future look like?

Pencil Interacton

The BigIdea

Connect students to targeted college, career readiness, and youth development programs.

PENCIL's BigIdea is called E3: Experience, Enrich, Explore. Their BigApps Challenge is to create a centralized, one-stop shop of information from schools, Department of Education contacts, and non-profits so that students, counselors, and parents can easily find information on college and career preparation programs. 

PENCIL currently works with educators and students across the five boroughs to help develop the college and career readiness skills needed for a 21st century economy. Specifically, their Fellows program connects public high school juniors and seniors to paid summer internships at local businesses.

While the program receives hundreds of applications annually, PENCIL's current challenge is widening its reach. Students typically only learn about PENCIL Fellows through peers or school staff whom PENCIL has formed longstanding connections with. But there are still many other NYC public school students that lack career exposure and network connections. On average, a high school student receives only 38 minutes of guidance or career counseling over their entire high school career.

The BigIdea Explained

Interview with Marina Zhavoronkova from PENCIL

Marina Zhavoronkova, program manager of PENCIL Fellows, shared why she believes a search app and website that allows students to identify opportunities suited to their needs will help build a better New York.

M Zhavoronkova Headshot

What is PENCIL's BigIdea?

Our big idea is to connect students to targeted college, career readiness, and youth development programs. 

What is the basic problem? 

After working with thousands of applicants and Fellows, we understand that some students would benefit from summer programs that have a more hands-on emphasis on career development, such as Futures and Options' "Career Essentials" program or Opportunity Network's "Oppnet Prep."

Unfortunately, in too many instances, students miss out on programs like these or PENCIL Fellows, simply because their teachers, counselors, or families aren’t aware of them, leaving students to spend their summers without any meaningful college and career instruction. No matter the student, and no matter the programs that they may benefit from, we need to ensure that more children are more aware of the array opportunities that are available to them.

Why is solving this problem important for NYC's future?

Only 25% of city students graduate high school prepared for college and for their future careers; programs like PENCIL Fellows allow us to minimize this gap and allow students access to opportunities they would otherwise never have access to.

College readiness programs lead to college acceptance and persistence. Career readiness programs lead to internships, professional skills, and new professional networks vital to success. Lastly, youth development programs allow students to develop socio-emotional skills that are crucial in ensuring a successful transition to adulthood.

What are some examples of college and career-ready skills that today's students lack?

In no particular order, these skills include goal setting, time management, professional behavior, professional communication, and networking. Soft skills include optimism, self-direction, and adaptability. In the cognitive realm, the biggest one is literacy. 

What have been some of PENCIL's major accomplishments towards solving this problem?

PENCIL Fellows helps New York City public high school juniors and seniors develop the college and career readiness skills that they need to excel on the job, in college, and beyond. We recruit students for the year-round college and career readiness training program—which includes a paid summer internship—through students’ guidance and career counselors.

After receiving letters of recommendation, participating in PENCIL’s application process, completing a ‘business-ready’ resume, and participating in workshops with working professionals on interviewing, professional dress, and more, applicants eventually interview with top companies for summer positions across New York City.

pencil team

What are some of the main challenges currently holding the program back?

Currently, the biggest challenge is that there is no one place where data on all of these programs is collected and can be accessed by students, counselors, and parents. However, our big idea aims to solve that.

From there, the next challenge will be to give schools and students access to this platform so that they can then search and access these programs on their own. Our goal here at PENCIL is to access our network of 300 + schools, DOE contacts, and non-profit network contacts, to ensure that the platform is delivered into the right hands. 

How will NYC look different in the future if your big idea is launched?

New York City will look—and work—completely differently if this big idea is launched. This city has such an incredible scope of organizations and programs that can help students do better in school, learn more about a career, or prepare for the workplace. But in far too many instances, the students who would benefit the most from these programs are the most removed from them as well. That leads to hours of wasted time—time that could have been spent learning from volunteers, honing professional skills, and preparing for the future. No matter the student and no matter the programs that they may benefit from, we need to ensure that more children are more aware of the array of opportunities that are available to them.

If we recapture that time, our students will learn the academic skills that they need to graduate from high school and the personal qualities that they need to collaborate in the 21st century workplace. That adds up to better employees, a stronger economy, and a better city in which to live. But we can only create that city if we make certain that our students have all the opportunities, access, and exposure they need now, and one of the best places to start is by allowing students to find the programs that work best for them.

pencil interaction

PENCIL's BigIdea is called E3. With only 25% of city students graduating from high school prepared for college and for their future careers, PENCIL aims to minimize the opportunity gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers.

Where are PENCIL Fellows now? 

Off the top of my head we have a good number of students that still work at Taconic Investment Partners, Meringoff Properties, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Most of these are students who have continued to intern at these companies after they have finished the Fellows Program on a summer or part-time basis (most are still in college).

For More Information

Check out PENCIL's call to action on their BigApps page, and submit an idea to their challenge! 

We want to hear from you! What specific job opportunities do you think today's high school students should be exposed to? What skills do you think are currently lacking in the job market?

Leave a comment below, or let us know on Twitter (reply to @nycedc with #BigApps).



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