Ladders for Leaders puts students on path to paid internships and better futures

Ladders for Leaders puts students on path to paid internships and better futures
Courtesy Ladders for Leaders
By Bill Parry

The de Blasio administration is hoping to expand an internship program which is already popular with high school and college students in Queens. The public-private partnership, called Ladders For Leaders, placed 1,538 high-performing students at 475 job sites last summer with paid internships.

More than 8,000 students filed applications this year for the program that requires at least a 3.0 grade point average. More than one-third are eventually offered jobs at the companies where they interned.

“There is plenty of interest among students, but what we’re focused on right now is bringing more employers into the program,” said Darren Bloch, executive director of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC. “It’s a real collaboration with the private sector, while the city invests in pre-placement training and recruitment the government can’t do it alone. That’s why we ask the private sector to put up the salary for interns in the six-week internship program, normally at minimum wage, but some companies go over that.”

Part of the pre-placement training includes 30 hours of training in job skills and interviewing techniques. Astoria resident Allison Hayhurst runs the internship program at AppNexus, a Manhattan-based internet technologies company.

“It’s a great opportunity for both the student and our company,” she said. “I’ve been so impressed with all of their preparation and interview skills. They are more polished than many of the adults I’ve interviewed. I actually wish I had access to a program like this.”

Aileen Gemma Smith, the founder and CEO of Vizalytics, another Manhattan-based tech company, also endorsed Ladders for Leaders.

“I am happy to champion this program,” she said. “By going through that 30 hours of pre-interview training, it’s more than just a scrub in where they tell you how to dress and how to shake a hand. They really prepare the students with real world skills and that kind of training makes a real difference.”

More than 39 percent of the interns participating in the Ladders for Leaders program come from Queens.

“Our partners in Queens, including Central Queens Y and many of the schools, have been very supportive,” Bloch said. “The schools in particular are big fans of the program.”

Sandra Deng, 18, of Jackson Heights will graduate from the High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College before attending Binghamton University in the fall. She interned at AppNexus last summer.

“It was a wonderful experience and I would recommend Ladders for Leaders program for any curious high school student that wishes to familiarize themselves with the professional setting,” Deng said. “AppNexus also allowed me to learn more about different career options. I went in hoping to major in the STEM field, but left with an interest in the humanities. This would not have been possible without the diverse setting and supportive staff at AppNexus.”

Kimberley Dao, 19, of Forest Hills is currently finishing her freshman year at Yale University. As a student at the Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, Dao participated in Ladders for Leaders interning at AOL and then Vizalytics last summer.

“Before I moved to Queens 11 years ago, I never even imagined going to an Ivy League school, but the Leaders for Ladders program gave me the confidence to consider it,” she said. “Now I’m mentoring two students through the application process at Yale. Low-income, high-achieving people like myself don’t realize they belong at these colleges whose sticker prices seem too high, but you learn there are ways to make it happen.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.