Rutgers-Newark, Braven Highlighted by The Chronicle of Higher Education


Republished from The Chronicle of Higher Education

Imagine you’re a college student trying to network for a first job or an internship when you don’t know a single person in the field you’re interested in, or even that “networking” is a thing that other students regularly do to land an interview or learn about a career.

Many middle- and upper-income students acquire the knowledge and gumption to become good career networkers naturally, through their family connections or through programs offered by their colleges. (This Treks program at the University of Chicago, for example, seems like a pretty sweet opportunity.)

I’m more intrigued by programs that help lower-income and first-generation college students. That’s why I’ve been paying close attention to efforts like the recent RV excursion that Roadtrip Nation offered to community-college students, in which they share how they learned to cold-call graduates of California two-year colleges and interview them on camera about their career paths.

It’s also why I was happy to see the just-published “Jobs Report 2020” from Braven, a six-year-old nonprofit that is entirely focused on helping such students acquire the social capital that can help them hold their own in the job market and, in the words of its founder, Aimée Eubanks Davis, be part of something that is really “poverty-breaking for them.”

Davis is a Teach for America veteran (as a classroom teacher and later a staff member) who began Braven in 2014 as an experimental workshop at San Jose State University with 17 students. That workshop has since become a full-fledged course worth the equivalent of three credits, and Braven now offers it to a total of more than 900 students a year at San Jose State, Rutgers University at Newark, National Louis University, in Chicago, and as of this week, CUNY’s Lehman College.

Braven’s model is pretty simple. Using an online curriculum and leadership coaches drawn from local employers, students meet in cohorts over the course of a semester and systematically learn how to write a résumé, request an appointment, and conduct themselves in an interview. Most important, they also learn, through an exercise called storytelling, that a lot of their own life experiences have value to potential employers.

As Davis put it, Braven reminds students that “your story isn’t a liability, it’s a strength.” Building their confidence is part of the program. Without that, Davis said, “these young people are psyching themselves out before they even start competing.”

After the course concludes, the students — typically sophomores and junior transfers — continue to receive one-on-one mentoring and career-building experiences until they graduate.

Braven has been on my radar since I met Davis four years ago, and I was eager to include its work in my “Career-Ready Education” report last year because I share Davis’s belief that social capital matters when it comes to preparing students for careers. I admit I was a little doubtful about whether this kind of program belonged in the curriculum itself, but the fact that four colleges (so far) are now willing to grant academic credit for the program is at least some testament to the rigor of what Braven has developed.

It also has some results to crow about. As that latest report on the 340 Braven Fellows who graduated in 2019 shows, they outpaced their peers in obtaining a “strong” job within six months of graduation by as much as 22 percentage points (71 percent, versus 49 percent for black and Latino graduates of public colleges and 56 percent for all students). Braven defines a strong job as one that requires a bachelor’s degree and provides a decent salary and benefits, useful onboarding and career-development opportunities, and a path to promotion. The fellows outdid their peers on a few other job-related factors as well.

I’m often frustrated by the absence of research on new programs’ efficacy, so I was also glad to see that Braven has had the San Jose program evaluated by academic experts. That study showed that the fellows there were more likely than peers to have developed traits, like a sense of belonging and confidence around their career exploration, that are important to college persistence and career success.

Three other aspects of the Braven model seem especially noteworthy to me:

The networks that students develop extend beyond their own campus and community. In addition to the contacts that the fellows make with the help of their local leadership coaches and mentors, the Braven students also can connect with peers on other campuses where the program operates.

The model depends on employer partners, who benefit significantly from the program as well. In each of the labor markets where Braven is active, it finds employers that provide financing and personnel who serve as coaches for a cohort of students. Employers looking to nurture their staff members to manage diverse teams consider the coaching as a valuable experience for their younger employees. In Newark, for example, where Prudential has a major presence, the insurance company reserves 25 percent of the coaching slots for its employees. Braven’s employer partners also use the relationships to spot prospects for internships and entry-level jobs.

Students at least the ones I met in Newark a few weeks ago say it works. My impressions aren’t based on any kind of a formal study, but from my N of two, I can attest that, yes, there really are students who need this kind of experience and can benefit from it.

Hearing Wendy Asante, a 21-year-old sophomore who immigrated from Ghana three years ago describing the storytelling exercise was a striking moment. For that, she described the challenges of raising her younger siblings while going to school back home. “I thought it was just something that happened in my life,” she said. But when she shared that with the students in her Braven cohort, they offered her a perspective that built her confidence, assuring her that those experiences were examples of her multitasking skills and leadership.

And if I ever doubted that the Braven opportunities were eye-opening for students, Xhonatan Mimini, a 23-year-old senior helped me to reset my compass as he described how he felt when he first met with his mentor to review his résumé, high up in the Prudential headquarters building in downtown Newark. “I got greeted by security, and they escorted me up to the room,” Mimini told me, recalling how he had tried to keep his cool despite his excitement: “I felt like I was a VIP.”

So, no, that world where students come to college not knowing how to network — or how to get an internship or write a cover letter — isn’t imaginary. For many students, it’s still far too real.

Will you be at LearnLaunch Across Boundaries Conference, in Boston this week?

On Thursday at 11 a.m., I’ll be moderating a conference session called “Stories of Digital Transformation in Higher Ed,” featuring Julie Greenwood from Arizona State University, Vijay Kumar from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Patrick Norton from Tulane University.

This will be my first time at this event, and I’m eager to see what it’s all about. I’ll share some thoughts next week. If you’re there too, please find me and say hi.

Still open for applications for our ‘Shark Tank: Edu Edition’ at SXSW EDU.

Got a new company, a new organization, or even just a good idea to improve higher education? Attending SXSW EDU? Please consider taking the plunge as one of our Shark Tank contestants, on Tuesday, March 10, from 3 to 4 p.m., in Austin, Tex.

This year the “sharks” will again include me and Paul Freedman, chief executive and co-founder of Entangled Group; we will be joined by a newcomer, Charles (Chuck) Ambrose, chief executive of KnowledgeWorks and a former president of the University of Central Missouri. My colleague Scott Carlson will return, too, as MC, to keep the contestants and sharks in line.

Interested? Please send a short description of your idea to

Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at If you have been been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, or sign up to receive your own copy, you can do so here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.