Year Up Lifts the Next Generation
Up Close: People have long been curious about what it’s like to be a student at Harvard Business School, and increasingly they are also interested in how the best-known school of management manages itself. This is the second installment of a new series called Up Close, featuring the day-to-day work of the School and the people who do it.
11 Jul 2017   Zeenat Potia

Not long after graduating from Harvard Business School, Gerald Chertavian (MBA 1992) decided to found an organization intent on eliminating the opportunity gap for the six million young adults in the US who were out of work, out of school, and running out of economic options. The one-year intensive training program has gone on to help more than 17,500 young adults build their skills and launch their careers, both on and off the HBS campus. Here is an Up Close look at Year Up.

“I learned about Year Up through my father, who is a frequent listener of NPR. He heard a story about when President Barack Obama visited the Year Up Washington, DC location. He told me to check out the program, and the rest is history,” said Akeem Raphael, now a technical support analyst in Harvard Business School’s Information Technology department.

Akeem first came to HBS as an intern through the Year Up program. During the six-month internship, he gained valuable professional skills and training and eventually found a full-time position at the School. David Helen, associate director of program technology services, is a devoted champion of the partnership between Year Up and HBS. Over the years, he has managed 10 interns, and his commitment speaks for itself. “I don’t think there is any clearer correlation to the HBS mission of ‘Educating leaders who make a difference in the world,’ than Year Up. More than a standard working internship, Year Up at HBS is an educational experience. For many it is their first window into a world that might typically be unreachable. From day one, interns are learning about new technologies, developing confidence, and building social and professional skills. By tearing down the opportunity gap they are indeed making a difference in the world.”

Year Up is a one-year, intensive training program that provides low-income young adults, ages 18 to24, with a combination of hands-on skills development, coursework eligible for college credit, and corporate internships. The program provides a “runway” for motivated students by giving them the opportunity to realize their potential and holding them accountable as they do that. Today, Year Up has served more than 17,500 young adults and provided interns for more than 250 corporate partners, including Harvard University and HBS. Ninety percent of Year Up graduates are employed and/or enrolled in postsecondary education within four months of completing the program, and employed Year Up graduates earn an average salary of $36,000 per year.

The HBS relationship with Year Up goes all the way back to the roots of the organization. When Gerald Chertavian (MBA 1992) applied to HBS, he wrote his essay about an idea that he believed would help address inequities within the US economy. Ten years later, he launched Year Up, a nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the “Opportunity Divide”—the gap that exists when six million young adults are out of work, out of school, and without access to the economic mainstream (despite their talent). At the same time, 12 million jobs requiring post-secondary education are projected to go unfilled in the next decade. Year Up’s diagnosis of how to address the situation can be summed up through three guiding principles: “We are wasting talent, when we can’t afford to waste anyone. Economic justice equals economic prosperity. A hand up, not a hand out.”


Petronella Chilala, associate director, technology support services, another HBS manager who frequently manages Year Up interns, bubbles with pride when she talks about one of her Year Up success stories, Brian Chavez, who currently runs his own pizza restaurant in Dorchester. Chilala continues to be amazed and encouraged by Chavez’s unwavering spirit. “During his internship at HBS, Brian and I spoke extensively about his plans after graduating from Year Up. I am so delighted that he completed his bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and then started his own business.”

The ongoing connections between Year Up and HBS have created a virtuous cycle that enables both institutions to advance their priorities simultaneously. Since its early days, Year Up has turned to HBS talent to help it develop, engaging current MBA students through the Social Enterprise Summer Fellowship Program, hiring recent graduates to grow the organization and help expand into new geographic regions, and engaging experienced alumni to serve on its board.

For its part, HBS has been turning to Year Up to connect with talent to help advance its own technology and operational priorities. Since 2008, the School has taken on more than forty Year Up interns for IT and financial operations roles. 40 percent of those interns went on to fill subsequent positions at HBS. Since 2007, twenty-seven Year Up alumni have been hired at HBS in roles across Executive Education, IT, and Operations. Another valuable component of this partnership is that the Year Up interns and alumni who work here contribute toward increasing diversity on campus.

Increasing diversity and mentoring go hand in hand and benefit both the Year Up interns and the HBS managers who work with them. The investment of time and attention pays off. According to Helen, “The greatest thing I notice in my interns throughout the course of their time here is that they gain confidence. Harvard Business School can be an intimidating place, and it takes years for many employees to adapt to its culture and high expectations. I love to watch as interns gain the professional and social tools they need to navigate the fluid world of HBS.” Chilala agrees, adding that her experience has shown that the HBS interns are talented and mature and possess great professional skills even before they arrive on campus. This has to do with the rigorous coaching they receive from Year Up, from how to dress to how to be on time. Rudwan Mohammed, another intern in the IT department, says he appreciated the hands-on training he received from Year Up. “It whips you into shape and has taught me how to be more disciplined,” he explains. Dreaming big also seems to be part of the spirit of the young adults that Year Up helps to nurture and develop. Soft-spoken and determined, Mohammed, who worked as a server in a restaurant before he started the program will eventually go back to Roxbury Community College with the help of a Pell Grant after he finishes the Year Up program. He would then like to pursue a career as a teacher, nurse, or physician’s assistant.

Although all the interns share different goals, there is one thing that unites them, he concludes. “At the end of the day, we just want something better for ourselves. That’s why I was motivated to do Year Up, and why I’m so happy to work at HBS.”

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