Dejuan Johnson, Montgomery County 2018

Before finding Urban Alliance, Dejuan Johnson, an ambitious and driven young man, encountered mostly closed doors. “Before this program, I was searching for an opportunity,” Dejuan said. “I didn’t have the experience needed for the opportunities I wanted to pursue, because in high school it’s difficult to develop any skills beyond filing. We want to contribute, but don’t have the professional training needed to contribute right away.”

When he first heard about the program, he expected another locked door, but decided to apply anyway. “I’d rather be shut down by the Urban Alliance team, than to shut down myself by not going after what I want,” Dejuan said.

Dejuan’s gamble paid off, and he joined Urban Alliance’s first class of interns in Montgomery County, MD, where he had the chance to intern at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, an organization working to improve the lives of young people with special needs through research, health care, and education. The experience was eye-opening for Dejuan, who had never been exposed to adult professionals or special needs children. “It rewired how I look at the world; I’m more understanding, I’m open to ideas, and I’m open to people,” he said. “High school is a set structure where we’re surrounded by our peers. When you have an opportunity to work with adults—people with actual lives who are committed to deadlines and their families—it influences how you mature. I now understand how I contribute to the bigger picture.”

Dejuan went on to the University of Maryland—College Park to study civil engineering. He says that the skills and experience he gained from Urban Alliance will be the foundation for everything he accomplishes moving forward. “Every student needs a high school internship,” Dejuan said. “Urban Alliance allows students with potential and desire to have a real opportunity … We learned how to make a good first impression and now have the tools to make it last.”