Skills sharing

Opening up opportunities for New York students

Joseph Selby volunteering with Opportunity Network

21 May 2020

Systemic gaps in opportunity for students from a range of socio-economic backgrounds and especially communities of colour can stifle students’ progress and success. Lack of access to training, networks and choice for certain groups means that only 30 per cent of underrepresented students graduate from college – and only a third of these secure a job after graduation.

When Jessica Pliska and Brian Weinstein realised the extent of these gaps, the vision for The Opportunity Network (OppNet) was born.

“Through OppNet, Jessica and Brian wanted to build equity across the education and career development landscape, and democratise access for all students to realise their ambitions, talents, and passions,” says AiLun Ku, President and Chief Executive Officer for the New York-based not-for-profit.

And for the past 17 years OppNet has been doing just that. Recognising that no single solution will close these gaps alone, the organisation developed its six-year Fellows program – working with students from high school through to college graduation and into interest-aligned jobs – that combines crucial elements including individualised college and career guidance and support, skills development, and career and networking opportunities, including five summers of paid internships. The OppNet Fellows program is a game-changer for underserved young people in New York.

OppNet also offers organisations a way to prepare their students for success at college and in their career through its Career Fluency® Partnerships program.

“The program engages in multi-year capacity building partnerships with schools and community-based organisations across the country to develop and amplify their students’ college and career competencies. We help our partners build their institutional capacity and train their teachers and staff to integrate key OppNet curriculum and framework into their models,” AiLun says.

All of OppNet’s programs are anchored in the innovative Career Fluency® curriculum - a robust model that focuses equally on college and career and emphasizes building and leveraging personal and professional networks and social capital.

OppNet’s programs have seen great results. Around 92% of Fellows graduate from college – with 90% of them the first in their family to do so – and 89% find relevant employment or are admitted to graduate school after graduation.

For the past three years, Macquarie has been supporting OppNet in its mission to close the opportunity gap in New York.

“Young people are faced with early-life decisions that have a profound impact on the rest of their lives,” says Joseph Selby, a Senior Manager in Macquarie Capital’s compliance team in New York, who currently serves on the OppNet Associate Board. “The resources available to young people at this time have an enormous influence on their ability to make informed decisions. But there is a significant divide in the level of resources available to young people across socio-economic backgrounds. Supporting OppNet is an avenue for Macquarie to support young people to increase their access to opportunities in order to thrive on a more level playing field.”

In 2018, the Macquarie Group Foundation made a three-year investment to continue expanding OppNet’s programs.

Erin Shakespeare, regional director for the Macquarie Group Foundation in the Americas, says, “OppNet works to equal the playing field for highly motivated students from low-income and historically underrepresented backgrounds by facilitating access to colleges, career opportunities and professional networks, which directly aligns with our grant-making focus area for the Americas. Our grant supports a fellowship program that supports students from grade 10 through to college graduation and into a career.”

“The grant helps us enhance the important college success conferences we host for our Fellows during summer and winter breaks. It also helps us expand our virtual programs, which provide access our content from anywhere and at any time. Finally, it helps us build out our individualised internship preparation support for students,” says AiLun.

Beyond this financial commitment, Macquarie has also assisted with organising volunteer events such as Speed Networking, Mock Interviews for Fellows, and College Essay Coaching.

For the past two years, Macquarie staff have shared their expertise at OppNet’s Business and Entrepreneurship Summer Accelerator – an event where Fellows learn about market analysis, how to conceptualise their business ideas, and develop and pitch their business models.

“Support from Macquarie has been instrumental to OppNet's continued success. With Macquarie's continued partnership, we look to expand our impact and dig deeper into equity-centered college and career programming,” says AiLun.