By Stacie Mills, Associate, San Francisco Bay Area

Apprehension over graduating college is not new–most students graduate with no work experience and begin navigating the complicated and frustrating job market with little to no guidance. Most students…but not Peony Yu. While most students struggled, Peony already knew what she wanted to do. She knew she wanted to begin her career by working with historically under-resourced communities. She had the work experience to support her goal and the knowledge of how to get there. So, what made all the difference for Peony?

Peony found support and guidance from Genesys Works Bay Area (GWBA) – a nonprofit organization serving high school students from challenged backgrounds to help them achieve college and career success through internships that teach skills training and give meaningful work experiences. Too many students from low-income backgrounds graduate high school without the skills, knowledge, and insight needed to succeed in college and a career, leaving potential untapped and jobs unfilled.

There is a widening disparity between classroom curriculum and workplace readiness and success. As a result, millions of entry-level jobs go unfilled each year because young adults lack the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to succeed in these roles.[1]

Closing these skills and opportunity gaps are urgent economic and social imperatives. 2020 predictions indicated 63% of jobs would need some post-secondary education.[2] In fact, as of 2018, 70% of all jobs require some form of post-secondary education or training,[3] and only 13% of low-income students will earn bachelor’s degrees by age 24 (contrasted with 62% of high-income peers).[4]

Peony Yu was a young professional in GWBA’s inaugural cohort. GWBA is now in its eighth year serving high school seniors and placing them into meaningful and life-changing internships. When Peony was a senior in high school and completed her GWBA eight-week summer training intensive and began her year-long internship, little did she know she was creating the building blocks for her future. 

Peony has kept in contact with all 18 members of the inaugural cohort by attending annual gatherings. These relationships are just one reminder of the importance of her high school internship at Gensler, which led to her part-time job with WestEd. Based on her experience and skills from her internship at Gensler, she was able to land a position with the University of California, Irvine’s Calit2 throughout all four years of college. Her experience with Genesys Works continues to have a great impact on her life, as she emphasizes, “my time with Genesys Works was and continues to be so much more than a job – it’s an opportunity to help the community and make a greater impact.”

Peony is now a Program Coordinator at GWBA. In this role, she is responsible for implementing the Genesys Works core model with students and managing supporting relationships with students’ supervisors and school representatives. Peony works one-on-one with students to develop trusting relationships by mentoring and coaching throughout the program, actively monitoring student intern performance in the workplace, delivering student feedback, and providing college and financial aid support and resources to all students. She takes the time to facilitate long-term individual and program success with each student, highlighting how “each intern is so different and each circumstance is so unique. It’s important that I do my part to understand each student and ensure they are getting what they need.” She continues to express how “Genesys Works is a big support group – my role is to influence students to think about their futures because they are the future, and to make sure these students take every opportunity possible.” Peony’s goal is to impact more high school seniors and to grow the program, always looking for potential partnerships and searching for ways to scale beyond their current reach.

While Peony has learned the value of an opportunity, her mantra has evolved since college: “never say no to an opportunity, but focus on yourself and be kind to your capacity as a human being.” We have no doubt Peony will incorporate her experience, training, and incredible attitude into her present and future opportunities, and we can’t wait to see the impact she will have on the communities she serves!

[1] Genesys Works, “The Problem.” 2020. Retrieved from https://genesysworks.org/model-impact/the-problem/

[2] Anthony P. Carnevale, Nichole Smith, Joff Strohl, “Recovery: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2020.” Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. 2013. 

[3] Blumenstyk , G., “By 2020, They Said, 2 Out of 3 Jobs Would Need More Than a High-School Diploma. Were They Right?” Chronicle of Higher Education. 2020.

[4] Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, “Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States.” 2019.