Urban Alliance, Giving high school students experience in the corporate world

by Caralee Adams October 25, 2019 11:59 am

Najmah Abdur-Rahman wanted an internship during her senior year at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, but she had no idea where to look or who was hiring.

Then she learned about Urban Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that partners with businesses to provide an on-ramp to the corporate world for students in under resourced schools. In Montgomery County, it places a total of about 30 to 35 students from Springbrook High School in Silver Spring and Paint Branch in paid internships each year. After being accepted into the Urban Alliance program, Abdur-Rahman spent six weeks in after-school classes to prepare for the workplace—learning to dress professionally, manage her time and communicate in a business setting.

“Coming into the program, I was really shy being around people I had never met,” says Abdur-Rahman, 19, of Burtonsville, who was placed at Chevy Chase Trust in Bethesda. “[The training] gave me practice and let me know what to expect.”

Abdur-Rahman worked at the investment firm for three hours most weekday afternoons from November through May and full time in the summer, putting in a total of 600 hours. She worked on research projects and digitized files.

Urban Alliance tries to match students with companies in industries that interest them, but that’s not always possible. Although Abdur-Rahman’s internship wasn’t in the field she planned to pursue (she’s now a civil engineering major at Montgomery College with plans to transfer to the University of Maryland in two years), she says it was useful to learn about investments and become more financially savvy. She took the advice of her mentor, Amy Newman, a senior trust officer at Chevy Chase Trust, and saved most of her money from the internship for college expenses. “She was that person who helped transition me to adulthood,” Abdur-Rahman says of Newman. “We had a lot of great conversations that have helped me feel more confident and prepared as I enter this next phase.”

Newman says she was pleased to see Abdur-Rahman take an interest in finance and grow as she worked collaboratively and showed initiative. In May, Abdur-Rahman noticed that another intern was leaving at the end of the school year and inquired about taking on some of that work in the summer. “I was really impressed that she was thinking about what the firm needed and how she could help,” Newman says. “Najmah is very ambitious.”

Throughout Abdur-Rahman’s time in the program, Urban Alliance held sessions to help the interns polish their resumes and work on their public speaking and networking skills. The organization operates an alumni program to support students as they attend college and launch careers, and Newman has offered to be a resource to Abdur-Rahman during college and as she enters the job market.