FILLING THE PIPELINE Internships for Hispanics offer valuable experience and spark interest in careers in business and beyond
By KENDALL VRANA
Look no further than Ruben De La Cruz to see what the Fe Foundation is all about.
An accountant in Philadelphia for a hedge fund, De La Cruz graduated from the Fe Foundation internship program’s first class in 2009, calling it a “very positive experience.”
“I could see how an organization was run,” said De La Cruz, who spent his internship with Aetna. “And I was able to see how the company operates, how the employees were, and experience a professional setting.”
In July, the Fé Foundation celebrated another graduation from its FE Program.
Created in 2009 by members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of the Lehigh Valley, the FE, or Futuros Empresarios Program, began to combat the high dropout rate of Latino high school students. The summer program consists of a one-week academic program at DeSales University in Center Valley followed by a four- week paid internship at a company or organization that best matches the student’s interests.
“They spend a week at DeSales, where they actually sleep in the dorm for a week, and get that college experience as well,” said business and financial consultant Gerry Pandaleon, who has been involved in the program for the past year. “They have DeSales students as mentors, and they are basically learning business plans during the day.
“They also teach them etiquette and how to network. My background is business, so I do a lot of business plans, and these kids do an excellent job with business plans; they’re very impressive. That’s their project for the week.”
Free to participants, the program sets itself apart by offering students a month-long paid internship – and by using high school students.
“What they had found is that the Hispanic community needs jobs, and [students] can’t take a nonpaying internship,” Pandaleon said. “Which isn’t fair; they need to be in the internships, as well.
“We try to match them with their desires; if they’re looking to be a nurse or a doctor, we match them with Sacred Heart [Hospital], for example.”
While most participating companies, including PPL and Air Products, contribute to the foundation, the student’s wages are paid by the Fe Foundation.
Offering a paid internship to the students allows them to gain valuable workplace experience without sacrificing the needs of their families.
“The idea is to give future entrepreneurs, in this case high school students, the opportunity to get training in life skills and internships with the purpose of increasing the educational, economic and social success of underserved or underrepresented students in our communities,” said Fe Foundation president and founder Alvaro Diaz. “We are thinking in terms of the future workforce for the Lehigh Valley.”
While the program is successful, initially there was hesitation by the companies.
“In the beginning, it took a lot of persuasion to have companies give internships to our students. I’m sure there was a lot of trepidation,” Diaz said. “Most companies are used to getting kids that are already in college; they’re more mature than kids in high school.
“When I first approached PPL back in 2009, they gave us only one internship slot. The next year, they called us back and gave us five, because the kids that went there did such a great job, and they realized this was something great for the community. So now they help us out a lot.”
Pandaleon said the program has a good purpose.
“It’s a good group. ... It seems to be successful,” she said. “[The students] are very appreciative. Some of them are shy, and by the end of it, they aren’t shy anymore.
“They’re getting to meet other people, work on projects together, and I think that’s important.”