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Pursuing innovation and driving inspiration in a year of uncertainty

2020 was not a year that anyone could have anticipated, and as the calendar year draws to a close, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose significant challenges to learning communities across the United States. Amid these difficult circumstances, DreamWakers remains committed to enhancing the way we connect students to stellar career role models.

In 2020, we engaged with our student, speaker, and educator communities in innovative and inspiring ways: from introducing flashchats in languages other than English and hosting career conversations from home to expanding our network of career professionals through corporate partnerships. Below we illustrate a series of five initiatives we launched in 2020 to uplift and motivate our community:

1. Flashchats en Español

Before 2020, DreamWakers had never hosted a flashchat in a language other than English, but in February, Ms. Kellie Rosenberger’s 10th-grade Spanish literature classroom at Beaverton High School in Oregon connected with speaker Karen Villeda for DreamWakers’ first flashchat en Español!

Ms. Rosenberger is a bilingual educator who seeks innovative ways for her students to apply their Spanish language skills. Karen Villeda is a marine conservationist who’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala a couple of years before she was born. She is also the first in her family to earn a college degree.

Karen is the daughter of immigrants and many of Ms. Rosenberger’s students are first-generation Americans. Karen showed the students that they, too, can earn college degrees and pursue rewarding careers, especially using their native or second languages as an asset. During the flashchat, students had the opportunity to ask Karen questions in Spanish, and Karen shared some of the best advice she received throughout her career.

Since this first flashchat en Español, Dreamwakers has partnered with other classes to show students how they can use their language skills in future careers. DreamWakers looks forward to hosting flashchats in languages other than English and partnering with educators to provide students the opportunity to gain confidence in their language skills.

During her chat, Karen Villeda shared a book that she found impactful on her career, “Four Fish.”

2. DreamWakers Daily: a streaming series

In March 2020, when schools transitioned to virtual learning as a result of the pandemic, DreamWakers saw a unique opportunity to continue connecting classrooms to diverse career professionals by adapting our tried-and-true model. Two weeks after schools closed across the U.S., the DreamTeam launched DreamWakers Daily: Career Conversations from Home, a daily flashchat series featuring stand-out #DreamSpeakers answering pre-submitted student questions.

DreamWakers streamed the series of interview-style flashchats each weekday via Facebook; the chats were also uploaded to YouTube, enabling students, educators, and parents to access a wealth of career inspiration and advice from their own homes. We reached more than 52,000 people on Facebook across eight weeks of streaming and heard from professional athletes, White House historians, engineers, CEOs, and more!

3. Partnering with #TwitterForGood

In May 2020, DreamWakers partnered with Twitter for their first-ever remote #TwitterForGood Day. As part of Twitter’s commitment to improving communities around the world, the biannual event encourages employees to give back through volunteerism, platform activation, and corporate giving. An astounding 75 Twitter employees, or Tweeps, joined forces with DreamWakers to connect with students across the U.S. through flashchats, panel discussions, and our #AskATweep series.

Since May, DreamWakers has hosted nearly a dozen additional flashchats with Twitter #DreamSpeakers who represent an array of professions from software engineers to content creators to diversity and inclusion professionals. In October 2020, TJ Adeshola, Head of U.S. Sports Partnerships at Twitter spoke with Ms. Leah Matari’s 9th-grade students who are part of Harlem Children’s Zone Academy for Arts and Civic Engagement. One student asked TJ, “As a Black man, how hard was it to reach this point in your career?” Read TJ’s inspirational response below.

4. Chicago Housing Authority Summer Partnership

Although most schools closed their doors during the summer, DreamWakers’ impact continued through partnerships with summer programs across the U.S. for dynamic career conversations. This year, DreamWakers launched a robust collaboration with two programs of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of Chicago residents: Neighborhood Youth Corps, which helps students explore future education and career options to empower and prepare them to maximize their potential, and Smart Art & Community Engagement, which supports teens to be inspired by exposure to diverse art forms, expand their critical thinking in response to pressing social issues, develop their own unique expression, and create opportunities for public engagement.

Together with two CHA, whose activities were fully virtual throughout the summer, DreamWakers connected students with diverse career role models across more than 20 flashchats. By the end of the summer, after connecting with diverse professionals in more than 900 minutes of interactive conversations, 97% of CHA students reported feeling more confident asking a career professional questions as a result of participating in flashchats and nine of out 10 wanted to learn more about the career industries to which they were introduced.

Some of the many student and speaker participants in the CHA program.

5. Career Fairs: From Virtual to ALL Virtual

Educators have long utilized DreamWakers’ flashchats to host virtual career fairs for their students, and we kicked off 2020 strong with several career fairs in a couple short months of in-person instruction. In response to the pandemic in March and beyond, we went fully virtual for career fairs, with students, speakers, and educators all joining from home.

Earlier this year, DreamWakers partnered with teachers at DC Prep to facilitate a virtual career fair for their 8th-grade students. The students connected with healthcare practitioners Tomás Diaz and Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, software engineer Carlos Quevedo, business owner and interior designer Eneia White, nonprofit Chief of Staff Gregory Lorjuste, and government ethics lawyer Donald K. Sherman, gaining valuable insights about the importance of life transitions and making the most of high school.

In February, DreamWakers supported school counselor, Mrs. Katrina Bennett-Brown to bring career role models from across the U.S. into five classrooms at Sierra View Elementary School in North Highlands, California. For the second year in a row, Mrs. Bennett-Brown utilized #DreamSpeakers to bring unique and diverse professionals to her school for a virtual Career Fair of the Future.

Career fairs, whether they are all-virtual or in-person, help students see what they can be. DreamWakers is elated to have been able to continue career fair programming in the all-virtual environment.

DreamSpeaker Erika Kirslis of PwC engages with a 4th-grade class at Sierra View Elementary.

The COVID-19 pandemic tested DreamWakers’ resilience as an organization and created new obstacles for the learning communities with which we partner. As we collectively adapted to these new circumstances, we designed innovative ways to adapt our model to meet the needs of students and educators across the country.

Of course, these five “firsts” are just a taste of how DreamWakers adapted programs and partnerships to the realities of 2020, reflecting our unwavering commitment to narrowing the opportunity gap for students in underserved schools. We are grateful for the students, educators, and speakers who demonstrate continual flexibility, eagerness to learn and adapt, and above all, commitment to students’ futures. In 2021 and beyond, we hope to again tackle to any challenges that come our way and steer closer toward education equity for all students.

Written by Sarah Duval, DreamWakers Education Intern

[1] Smart Museum of Art University of Chicago, Teens After-School, Youth-Driven Programs

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