Campus & Community

Getting a leg up, through Year Up

3 min read

Harvard’s embrace of urban internship program helps to train future leaders

It was standing room only in the Barker Center’s Thompson Room as a group of Harvard managers and their age-20-something interns listened to a man whose vision, developed as a student at Harvard Business School (HBS), is to get thousands of inner-city young adults into the job market.

“We want to change perceptions of urban young adults from deficits to assets. They are a critical component of the U.S. economic engine,” said Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of Year Up, a national program that trains urban young adults and places them in internships that prepare them for careers or college.

Chertavian was on campus to congratulate seven Year Up participants who had just completed their six-month work assignments. “What Harvard is doing with these young adults is enlightened leadership. The University is doing well by doing good,” he said.

Leslie Kirwan, dean for administration and finance of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), added, “It’s the right thing to do, and it’s smart. It provides excellent work experience and networking opportunities. It provides talented prescreened individuals for positions in the University. We are also fortunate in FAS to have Dean Mike Smith provide financial support for departments interested in hiring interns. In addition to the hardworking managers, I must recognize senior HR consultant Etaine Smith for overseeing Year Up at Harvard.”

Year Up participants range from 18 to 24 years old and have high school or GED diplomas. They are put through a rigorous six-month training program at Year Up’s center in Boston. Each is then placed in a similarly long internship at an area company or organization.

With locations sprinkled across the country, Year Up has served more than 4,000 students since its founding in 2000. All qualified students have been placed in internships, 95 percent of interns meet or exceed their managers’ expectations, and 84 percent of graduates are employed or attend college full time within four months of completing the program.

The program works with talented urban young people who for various reasons have not been able to transcend their environments. With some 3 million job vacancies in the United States, Chertavian said, “We think there is great opportunity to identify, prepare, and place some of the more than 5 million young, inner-city adults who are looking for jobs. We want to close the opportunity gap.”

Harvard has hosted 41 interns since 2009, with 16 at FAS, 14 at HBS, three at Harvard Management Company, three in the School of Public Health, two in the Graduate School of Design and the Law School, and one in executive education. Chertavian said Harvard has played an important role in helping Year Up reach its goals. In addition to being a renowned university, Harvard has a great group of supervisors, he said.

Year Up also brings diversity to the workforce. Most interns are underrepresented minorities. So the program creates a pipeline of minorities who can eventually take on management roles. “Diversity is crucial. It helps companies make better decisions,” Chertavian said. “Great companies of the future will create an environment that trains all our talented young people, no matter where they come from.”

Chris Ciotti, FAS associate dean for human resources, pointed out that, “in addition to bringing more diversity to FAS, the program provides managers with people who have been trained and selected to come to Harvard. We certainly see value in working with Year Up.”

Gerald Chertavian will discuss his book, “A Year Up,” at the Boston Public Library, 700 Bolyston St., at 6 p.m. on July 24.