Harvard fleet technician Luigi Criscuolo (left) works with summer interns Javon Santos (center) and Pasquale Fulginiti, who said the experience “has given me a glimpse of what to expect when I leave here to attend the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, and ultimately begin my career in automotive services.”

Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Experience for a lifetime

5 min read

Harvard’s Summer Youth Employment Program broadens students’ horizons, skills

Seven teens. Seven distinctly different stories. One common experience.

For many teens, having a summer job means more than just a paycheck. It means a chance to develop real-world skills — how to meet deadlines, stand accountable, and contribute to a team. On-the-summer-job experiences build character and put teenagers on a path to future success. Experts say that holding down a job as a teenager translates into better job skills as an adult and ultimately higher lifetime earnings.

This summer, 51 local high school students and recent graduates spent the school break working in various departments across Harvard’s Cambridge and Allston campuses as part of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). The accounts that follow make it clear that for many of them, the value of the experience went far beyond the money earned.

For 18-year-old Vanessa Bellony, it was another step in building an entirely new life.

“My family and I moved to the United States from Haiti four years ago, after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Already during my short time in this county, I have achieved a lot more than I ever dreamed I would,” said the recent graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. “I taught myself English before starting high school; I got involved with youth programs that helped with my performance in school, outside of school, and at work; I graduated high school with an impressive GPA; and I collected enough scholarships to go to a college that is ranked sixth nationally among business schools.”

Bellony called SYEP “a great way for me to expand my work experience. It has allowed me to gain more knowledge and skills — both professionally and personally. I’ve been able to attend helpful educational workshops that will help guide me through many life choices … I am grateful for my time spent at Harvard and know that the skills I learned here this summer will only help me when I go out and conquer the world!”

Vicky Grinberg spent the summer working in the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “My parents only dreamed of such a place when they were younger,” she said. “In the Soviet Union, where they lived until 1994 … simply existing was a challenge. I was lucky enough to be born in Boston.

“Just being exposed to some things has sparked certain lessons in me that I will bring with me throughout college, my career, and my life,” she added. “I feel more prepared to take on the professional world and more confident in my abilities.”

Not all the students worked in an office. Some, like 18-year-olds Javon Santos and Pasquale Fulginiti, spent the summer with Harvard’s Fleet Management Services team. “Since I was a child, I have always wanted to work on cars as a mechanic, and Harvard University has helped me take my first step in that direction. [SYEP] has given me an extraordinary opportunity … and I am very thankful for it,” said Santos.

Fulginiti agreed, saying, “It has given me a glimpse of what to expect when I leave here to attend the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, and ultimately begin my career in automotive services.”

Sixteen-year-old Andrea Burbano, who worked in the Community Affairs office, called SYEP a great opportunity. “On any particular day we might help a 5-year-old get excited about learning over the summer, show a 9-year-old that reading is fun, or help facilitate events with families throughout Allston and Brighton. All while getting paid!” she said. “Having this job has given me such a sense of accomplishment and gratitude. Not only am I bettering myself, but I am able to give back to the community in real and tangible ways. And that is something I will forever be proud of.”

Nabila Djellakh, 17, said that because of her experience with SYEP, she is more prepared for what she knows is down the road. “I learned about working under pressure while remaining calm and professional. I know that these are the types of skills that will help me succeed in the future.”

While all the students were proud of their accomplishments, 18-year-old Shakib Pranta, who worked with Harvard Public Affairs and Communications this summer, said it best. “My family and I came to the United States from Bangladesh just seven years ago and today I am a high school graduate, am getting ready to attend college, and am already working in an office environment.

“This still seems like a dream to me … It’s more than just an opportunity. It’s an honor. But seeing the smile on my mother’s face … is more than enough for me.”

For more of the students’ stories, see the Community Affairs website.