Transforming lives and creating equitable access to education

Photo credit: Breakthrough New York students celebrating their graduation.

In today’s competitive market for talent, a college degree remains the strongest lever for economic and social mobility. Yet, the reality is that in the United States, a student’s race and zip code are major determining factors of an individual’s access to educational opportunities and the preparation required for a person to obtain a college education.

Approximately 63 per cent of public high school graduates in New York City pursue postsecondary education compared with the national average of 68 per cent.1 Of those who enroll in college in New York, 66 per cent graduate on time. However, for students from low-income households, the likelihood of graduating on time drops to 33 per cent.2

“To break this socioeconomic cycle as well as contribute to keeping the vibrancy, economy and health of New York City thriving, it’s crucial for more New Yorkers to access high-quality educational and career opportunities,” says Beth E. Onofry, Executive Director of Breakthrough New York, a New York-based nonprofit devoted to empowering students from low-income communities to access college educations and pursue fulfilling careers. Through its long-term program, 96 per cent of Breakthrough New York students graduate from selective high schools and 90 per cent graduate from college on time.


Raising students’ awareness of education and career possibilities

Breakthrough New York believes that exposing students to educational and career opportunities earlier can help break the socioeconomic cycle that impacts students’ long-term career success. Beginning in the seventh grade and extending through college graduation, Breakthrough New York’s 10-year program starts much earlier than other nonprofits that tend to focus on college success or diversifying the professional talent pipeline. Breakthrough New York supports students transitioning into both high school and college and provides comprehensive academic and social-emotional resources as they progress through the program.

By using an innovative ‘students-teaching-students’ model to operate its afterschool and summer programs, it recruits and trains college students to teach its programs and mentor younger students. The facilitated ‘near-peer’ relationships help achieve a win-win for all, helping mentors gain experience mentees receive support in their academic ambitions, and with all participants developing their passion for education.


Macquarie’s partnership with Breakthrough New York

Macquarie Group Foundation’s grant making strategy in the region focuses on promoting college access, success and career attainment for underrepresented youth, making Breakthrough New York a natural partner. The Foundation helped to expand Breakthrough New York’s college preparation programming with a seed grant in 2018 for the nonprofit’s in-house college coach program, which launched in 2020 remotely during the pandemic. This program is an all-volunteer cohort of professionals who provide students with personalised guidance. With more than 120 mentors today, including several Macquarie executives, the program continues to grow in its mission to strengthen student engagement and persistence.

Breakthrough New York is also part of Macquarie LEADS, a high school internship program that places students across its businesses. The program exposes youth to financial careers well before they go to college through this programming, which showcases the vast array of careers in the industry as well as helps them expand their professional networks. Macquarie also hosts an annual careers exploration workshop with Macquarie Capital that focuses on careers in investment banking and finance. Breakthrough New York has also consistently been a participant in Macquarie’s annual Mentoring Week campaign, which is an opportunity for Macquarie staff to volunteer for college and career success activities supporting youth in local communities.

“At Macquarie, we’ve learned through Breakthrough New York that strong relationships, including near-peer and professional mentors, are critical to support the sustained trajectories of students throughout college. This was further proven necessary throughout the pandemic, a time when isolation was exacerbated,” says John Darmanin, Executive Director in Macquarie’s Risk Management Group.

Additionally, it is without question that the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted learning and shone a light on the inequities of access to technology and educational resources for low-income communities. Breakthrough New York adapted its entire program to be online as well as expanded its emergency grants program to support students and their families with basic needs.

Beth adds, “The pandemic also illuminated that academic success is intertwined with mental and social-emotional wellness. We hired a full-time social worker to provide students with direct mental health support and incorporate social-emotional resources throughout the ten-year continuum.”

Breakthrough New York relied on a new level of support from donors like Macquarie who extended an additional grant to support these critical efforts to provide education and support to its students as part of its COVID-19 donation fund.


Aligning purpose with passion

The focus on measurable and tangible results for local youth is what led John to join the board of Breakthrough New York during the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2020. Working and volunteering closely with staff across the Group, he shares how his passion along with Macquarie’s purpose focused of ‘empowering people to innovate and invest for a better future’ is perfectly aligned with Breakthrough New York’s mission. "By investing resources in high-achieving students from diverse backgrounds, Macquarie's support of Breakthrough New York is helping to address socioeconomic inequality to help create positive outcomes for individuals and their families," says John.

He adds, “I’m grateful to Macquarie for connecting me with Breakthrough New York. It’s fulfilling to utilise my skills and activate my network to support an organisation that’s leveling the playing field and helping students see that anything is possible in life. With the right support and tools, they have the power to create bright futures for themselves.”

Reflecting on her mentorship involvement, Isabella Dyno, a manager on Macquarie’s Risk Surveillance team, says, “The youth participants are bright, kind and motivated in a way that’s almost unfathomable of any person at such a young age. Breakthrough New York’s program fosters this sense of independence and self-reliance while also creating a sense of family and belonging. Seeing how that feeling of community bolsters these students makes me proud to be part of the Breakthrough New York community as a mentor.”

Photo credit: Macquarie’s Isabella Dyno, mentor, with Breakthrough New York mentee, Yu An during a virtual mentoring session.


What’s next: educational opportunities beyond the classroom

The demand for high-quality, out-of-school educational opportunities is at an all-time high across New York City. Beth states, “Breakthrough New York is committed to providing more students with access to educational experiences that inspire and empower their pursuit of a college degree and fulfilling career.” The organisation is embarking on a growth plan to enroll more students and increase the number of future college graduates who will lead the workforce and community. It’s also improving its program quality by developing personalised, project-based learning. Students will develop their academic knowledge and social skills while shaping their future aspirations. “This calls us to expand our definition of student success beyond what helps students achieve the next educational milestone to a broader understanding of what skills and competencies prepare young people to achieve a life of impact, especially as students are looking at alternate routes to a 4-year college degree due to the rising cost of postsecondary education,” says Beth.

“Because of Breakthrough New York’s comprehensive, long-term plan with proven impact, we recently provided an additional grant over the next three years to help them build out their programming,” states Pritha Mittal, Americas Head of Macquarie Group Foundation.

“I can’t think of a better way to build a better future than by investing in a young person’s education and career aspirations,” says John. “I look forward to being a part of Breakthrough New York’s growth as both a staff volunteer and as a board member, and to watch these young people grow into people of positive change.”


  2. Farley et al 2019