Student Leaders tackle social media and social issues
Starting the summer before her high school senior year, Nelsy Torres was looking for more leadership experience to add to her already impressive resume. Her summer internship got her that and much more — including insight into a career path.
Nelsy, a student at North High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, earned one of four coveted spots in the Bank of America Student Leaders program. This signature philanthropic program of the Bank connects high-achieving students with internships at local nonprofits across the U.S. These nonprofits provide the Student Leaders with the opportunity to explore the vital role that nonprofits play in advancing community health, the importance of public private partnerships to advance social change, and a focus on building financial acumen. The program helps to prepare a diverse pipeline of community-minded young adults with workforce skills and leadership training.
In the Twin Cities, Bank of America has partnered with Hennepin Theatre Trust on the Student Leaders program for the last five years. Over the years, the Student Leaders have worked in various departments at Hennepin Theatre Trust such as accounting, marketing, development, and IT.
Nelsy was in the Student Leaders program along with seniors Dawson Clifton from Andover, Esperanza Lee of Woodbury, and recent Como Park Senior High graduate Chittra Xiong.
This year, because of the coronavirus, the Student Leaders program went virtual. Nelsy, Dawson, Esperanza and Chittra worked with Hennepin Theatre Trust’s education department and social media staff, along with Bank of America leadership and financial experts. The students learned about the importance of public-private partnerships to advance social change, took part in mentoring webinars, learned about financial literacy, got engaged with social media strategy, collaborated to deliver effective presentations in a professional setting, and more — all virtually. As their final project, the Student Leaders participated in a collaborative storytelling project on behalf of the Trust to amplify the voices of youth in our community. This project involved reviewing Hennepin Theatre Trust’s web and social media presence. The Student Leaders focused on content aimed at their peer group — the Spotlight Education social channels. With some guidance, they analyzed and thought of ways to increase audiences and engagement on the Spotlight pages.
“I did find the leadership experience beneficial,” said Nelsy, “but even more, I found my voice on certain things. When I was applying, I wanted to have a strong voice and for people to understand my opinions.” Nelsy said it was that experience, plus conversations she had with leaders at Hennepin Theatre Trust and Bank of America, that helped her decide to pursue social justice or PR in college.
“The project we worked on with marketing and how to speak to audiences, informing them, educating them — that’s what feels right,” said Nelsy.
Esperanza Lee is still determining her career path. Also entering her senior year, she plans to take all virtual classes at Woodbury High School. She says she wants to stay open to new ideas and people as she looks forward to college.
Like Nelsy, Esperanza has an eye on social justice, with a focus on youth wellness.
“They’re overlapping — you can’t have one without the other,” she explained.
She was drawn to the Student Leaders program because of the organizations involved.
“Bank of America has a focus on racial and social equity, education, enabling people to work and make a living wage and achieve this through youth employment, youth empowerment and of course their continued support of the arts,” she said.
Hennepin Theatre Trust was also a natural fit, because Esperanza is drawn to projects that help build connections. In her Student Leaders application, she notes that she has started an initiative to increase youth wellness in her own community, gathering and delivering notes of encouragement from community members to people in need.
“Just to know that little things can make a difference is huge to me,” she said. “Little notes of encouragement — if I could get someone in the community to write a letter to someone in need, I know that life can change with little things.”
Despite vast experience with leadership in her school and community, the project with Hennepin Theatre Trust helped open Esperanza’s eyes in one surprising way — the power of social media.
“[Social media felt] a little too daunting, too time consuming,” she explained. “I didn’t know how attached to it I would become.”
Esperanza explained that working on a presentation connecting with Spotlight Education students, as well as her conversations with Trust employees, shaped her understanding of how social media can build connections and affect change.
“I’ve seen how other people interact with it before, especially in light of George Floyd, there was a lot going on that I was aware of. There was a huge social media campaign, and people were mobilizing in that way. To see the momentum was cool to me,” she said.
All four of the students utilized another benefit of the internship to help process the social unrest this summer. They’ve had access to a group chat with all 300 of the students in the program across the U.S.
“They’re amazing people,” said Nelsy. “I have this [Student Leader] friend who lives in California, and she’s very laid back and has that west coast vibe. And I have friends who live in Texas and Tennessee, and when we talked about the social issues in our local communities, it was eye opening to think, ‘wow, the entire world doesn’t live like Minnesota.’”
Even with that sense of connection, Nelsy says she doesn’t plan to sign up for social media accounts anytime soon. But she does plan to stay in touch with those friends, and she’s carrying a bigger lesson with her.
“I really had to learn how to be open and just be vulnerable, which was really good for me,” she said. “I think you can find a lot about yourself when you’re put in a position where your voice matters, especially feeling like my voice didn’t matter. It just builds your self-esteem. Our self-esteem can get pretty low, so this is the perfect opportunity.”
Even with the shift to a virtual program this summer, the Student Leaders program left a lasting impact on the students.
That’s something that gives Katie Mochoruk, Vice President of Community Relations at Bank of America, reason to be proud of the students and the program.
“Each year we see the Student Leaders program strengthened as the relationship between Bank of America and Hennepin Theatre Trust deepens,” Katie said. “Even amidst a global pandemic, the Trust provided an exceptional career-building opportunity for these young leaders.”
“The resiliency of the students is remarkable,” Katie continued. “Their work — all in a digital environment — provided meaningful results to both Bank of America and the Trust. This program is the highlight of our summers, and seeing the students flourish over the six weeks is so rewarding.”
“To think that it’s all virtual!” exclaimed Nelsy. “Seriously, it was amazing.”
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