Resilience Reimagined: Pivoting Year Up to Virtual Learning

Year Up paves new paths and empowers students to unlock their full potential despite challenges from the pandemic

In the United States today, nearly five million Americans haven’t progressed professionally beyond high school. That leaves five million students at an immediate disadvantage when entering the job market. The rise of COVID-19 has only worsened this issue, leaving more students behind with no other choice than to drop out to sustain their livelihoods.  

What is Year Up?

For the past 20 years, Year Up, a national nonprofit, has been dedicated ensuring that young adults gain the skills, experiences, and support to access professional careers and higher education. Their ultimate mission is to empower and unlock each student’s potential.

Students from all demographics and ages can apply for a full year of specialized learning and a six-month corporate internship at a Fortune 1000 company. From information technology to software development, Year Up equips students with the technical skills, as well as professional ones. It’s a formula that works: 90% of Year Up graduates continue their education or are hired from corporate partners. By providing these students with both professional and technical skills, Year Up has become a vital source of untapped and bright, young talent. 

Whitley Denson hosts a virtual class in a conference room.
Pivoting to Virtual Learning For the Pandemic

With the onset of COVID-19, Year Up uncovered new ways to serve their students. Aside from shifting their curriculums to virtual learning, Year Up needed to ensure that their beneficiaries would have access to online learning and a sustainable work environment throughout the pandemic to continue their education. 

Hector Falcon answers a call at a park in Washington, D.C.
Whitley Denson, Program Director of the Philadelphia branch, has been leading the charge in pivoting in truly innovative ways. Denson was already developing a hybrid model of in-class and virtual learning before the pandemic hit. The Alternative Direct Service team is a new and innovative pilot program that is being tested in the Philadelphia and South Florida sites. Instead of dedicating a year to Year Up, this program is a seven-month model with three months of learning and development and four months of work immersion. Additionally, her team introduced individual lab and study time for each student based on their curriculum and progress.

Creating Leaders Through Capital One Online Internships

Coordinating the online internship program with their corporate partners was another challenge. Hector Falcon, a recent graduate, started his internship at Capital One, entirely online. He’s proven to be a true leader and a Year Up success story example. “Hector has that mindset and drive to succeed. He was able to motivate others and was a leader from start to finish within our community. A lot of his peers leaned on him,” shares Denson. 

Whitley Denson answers a video call on Year Up's rooftop (left), while Year Up alumnus and Capital One intern, Hector Falcon, works in his living room (right). 

Whitley Denson catches up with alumnus, Hector Falcon, through a video call. 
Falcon owes his interest in technology to his father. “My dad’s an electrical engineer, so we always made robots growing up. I just really liked visiting my dad at work, all of it,” says Falcon. Even though he worked multiple part-time jobs on top of Year Up’s intensive program, his dedication and focus earned him prestigious awards at Year Up: Professional of the Week and the Empowered Award. “Receiving these awards made me realize that people notice me, and they’re rewarding me for it. That feeling is unmatched,” says Falcon. Year Up and the staff helped Falcon find his voice and confidence. 

Whitley Denson works in a meeting room at Year Up’s office (left) and chats with her colleagues (right). 

Supporting Year Up Interns Personally and Professionally

In addition to responding to COVID-19, Year Up has ramped up its efforts in its learning community. Thanks to its vast alumni network, Year Up has expanded due to word of mouth. “This idea of community is woven into the tapestry of Year Up. We tell our interns that they’re not doing this just for themselves…There are ten other folks coming after you. The big thing I wish people knew about Year Up is that it’s not just workforce development – it’s also personal development,” says Denson. 

Whitley Denson walks through the Year Up office's neighborhood. 
When the racial justice movement gained the nation’s immediate attention, Denson and her group of interns quickly mobilized and rallied on the front lines of protests. “It’s not new to us to band together, because that’s what we’ve always done,” says Denson.  She believes that her students and staff are the definition of resilience. “We’re supporting students, while also navigating our own lives. We’re carrying the weight of failing and succeeding, over and over again.” 

Capital One is proud to support Year Up and their dedication to closing the Opportunity Divide. Their continued efforts are transforming lives and empowering students to reach their full potential. 

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