DePaul Cristo Rey High School students don’t have your average first-job stories. While many of us started off working at places like the mall, fast-food restaurants or the local pool, DePaul Cristo Rey students work at places like Key Bank, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and 85.51.

It’s thanks to the school’s Corporate Work Study Program, which places students once a week in workplaces throughout the Tristate, giving them an opportunity to learn in a professional environment, that students are provided this unique experience.

“The big overarching goal is to give a private college preparatory education to those students and families that otherwise couldn’t afford that opportunity. It’s made possible through the partnership of businesses, corporations, what we refer to as corporate partners, that invest by hiring our students,” says Travis Rowley, director of operations for the program. “It’s a mutually beneficial relationship in that high school students provide a service, returning value to the company, in exchange for providing, rather than a paycheck, scholarship dollars that cover the vast majority of their education costs.”

It’s a beneficial relationship that has paid off. The school currently works with more than 125 businesses, ranging from small family-owned businesses to Fortune 500 companies, in almost every industry. The school, which started in 2011, will have its third class graduate this year and has a 100 percent college acceptance rate. Companies are seeing a benefit, too. “It’s not just a business venture but it’s also a youth development venture. It’s a way to give back to the community while at the same time impacting the company for future sustainability,” says Rowley.

Joining the Team

FRCH Design Worldwide, an architecture firm with headquarters at 311 Elm St., joined the program in

2016 and is currently hosting four students.

The school reached out to FRCH in early summer 2016 and the two quickly formed a partnership.

“[The process] was really quick,” says Kim Mashall, executive administrator at FRCH. “I know it was quick because [the school] came to the office and met with just the core group to kind of give the down and dirty about how the program works, and then they were like, ‘OK, and since you’re in we need to meet with you guys because you’ll have your students in two weeks.’ So it was fast.”

DePaul meets with the companies to help determine how the students can fulfill a need, but the day-to-day responsibilities of the students are left to the corporate partners.

“We dedicated a student to a particular group within our firm, so one is in marketing, one is in IT, one is in accounting and the fourth is in what we call resource design, which helps out all of the interior design folks,” says Tom Custer, vice president, marketing & client development at FRCH.

Although the students are in high school, FRCH works to make them feel like part of the team and the workplace.

“When the students started our HR department did an orientation with them just like they would do with any new co-op or new employee, did the tour, did who your supervisor is, and then from there they’ve dug into their individual tasks with what department they’re working in,” says Marshall. In addition, HR sent out an email to staff, just like they would do with a new hire, introducing the students to everyone.

Emily Hamilton, marketing manager of brand experience at FRCH, has loved working with her student, O’Shun Jones. “We did a website for our holiday card this year. We pulled together recipes, like all different recipes with stories behind them, and so O’Shun jumped in, learned Wordpress, was actually putting in recipes for people,” says Hamilton. She’s also taken pictures at events, worked on social media and created Excel files.

“I think it’s a great program for everyone involved. I think for them to get not only firsthand experience but just exposure during high school of what’s out there and what can be, I think it gives them hope and probably passion toward college or what they might want to study,” says Custer. “And vice versa, I think it kind of renews what a fun place we are to work at.”

More than a Job

While students are working for their education they’re also picking up valuable skills that they can use later in life.

“It’s different than other schools that I’ve been at,” says Nakiaja Baccus, a senior at DePaul who works at FRCH. “It’s a great experience for me to go out and explore more so that way I can gain experience now and use skills for the future.”

Baccus has worked at two other companies in the program, a construction company and a law firm, and, while she’s not interested in those fields specifically, they’ve introduced her to different possible careers and new skill sets.

“I’ve learned to accept the challenges as they come and then use those challenges for the future. It is teaching me persistence and to stay on time and to show up every day to do my best,” she says.

Rowley says that skills like this are some of the most important things students take away from the program.

“It’s those relationships that they’re making in the workplace, being exposed to professionals and mentors in the workplace and developing that work ethic, going to work. They learn how to persist, not only through graduating through high school, but also graduating to college. It’s kind of like the secret sauce that’s helping the students see the real world applicability of their educational experience,” he says.

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