British movie star Daniel Craig is accustomed to difficult situations. He plays James Bond, the suave and shrewd British spy who manages to escape from one impossible scenario after another. Maybe he recognized the same resilience in the high-achieving, low-income students at The Opportunity Network, an organization that helps these young people access career opportunities, professional networks and competitive colleges. Craig and his actress-wife Rachel Weisz just signed on as partners to help The Opportunity Network level the playing field for these students.
Like James Bond, these young people are breaking out of what is often an inescapable trap -- poverty. And they are doing it with the same finesse that Daniel Craig brings to his movies. Opportunity Network students get intensive exposure to college, careers, professional etiquette and five summers of paid internships. They become skilled networkers, poised speakers and effective advocates for themselves. All students need to know how to write a business email, ace an internship interview, and choose a college that's a great fit. Middle and upper class kids learn these skills around the family dinner table, and when low-income kids miss that opportunity, they are held back for life.
We have watched hundreds of students use these "soft skills" to overcome the hard challenges of poverty. Our investment pays big dividends when 100 percent of these students graduate from competitive colleges, and 87 percent secure professional track jobs or admission to graduate school within six months of college graduation.
A new study by researchers at Harvard and Stanford supports this approach. The study found that 85 percent of low-income students with top grades and test scores do not apply to even one competitive college, because they don't understand their options or the process. And 80 percent of people find their jobs through somebody they know, so learning how to build networks is an essential career skill. There are an enormous number of talented, low income young people who meet the qualifications for top colleges and who are well prepared for sophisticated careers, and it is our loss when they are left behind. These young people bring diverse backgrounds and perspectives that would enrich campuses, and workplaces, but only if we give them a chance.
Students like Chemi Chemi are defying the odds. Chemi escaped Tibet in 2001, crossing mountains with her possessions tied to a horse. She and her family came to the United States six years ago as refugees. The daughter of yak herders, Chemi found herself in Brooklyn speaking little English and unprepared for American schools. Her mother works at a nail salon six days a week and cleans apartments on the seventh day. A painfully shy young woman, Chemi built her confidence and her English language ability through public speaking workshops and speed networking events at The Opportunity Network. She spent last summer interning at the Brooklyn District Attorney's office through the Thurgood Marshall Law Program, and also attended Princeton's Summer Journalism Program, where she used her newfound networking and communication skills to connect with speakers and classmates from across the country. This fall she will attend Hampshire College, and she won the Gates Millennium Scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which will cover her college and graduate school costs for the next 10 years. She plans to become a lawyer.
Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz are making a world of difference for students like Chemi, not only because their generous gift will fund important programs, but also because their high profiles shine a searchlight on a strategy that successfully levels the playing field for low-income teens, so they can accomplish their missions. And that's something James Bond would appreciate.
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