Bank of America Leadership program interns Dakauri Pinckey (back) and Brian Ametekpor (front). Photo credit: Bank of America Media Relations

Transitioning from the classroom to the workplace made smoother for five New Jersey teen leaders

6 mins read

While most teens flip burgers for a summer gig, a handful of students amplified community work that matters with leadership training and meaningful civic engagement.

Shivali Patel (Ronald E. McNair Academic High School), and Anabelle Jerome (Passaic County Technical Vocational Schools), along with Brian Ametekpor of (Essex County Donald M. Payne Senior School of Technology), Areebah Alam (Highland Park High School), as well as Dakauri Pinckney (Gill St. Bernard’s School) started their school year with a lot more weight in their blooming resumes. Fresh from an eight-week paid summer internship, they gained leadership and real-world workplace experience.

For their summer break, they participated in Bank of America’s Student Leader program. Launched in 2004, the banking institution selects teens who are catalysts for change in their communities and at school. Then they are provided with experiences and training to develop their professional portfolios in social enterprise.

Each chosen for their highly qualified, yet unique profiles, the budding global influencers were rooted in making a difference before they even started the journey. 

“The teens selected for this program are already having an impact at their schools, but may have lacked the opportunity to apply those skills to the workforce until now,” said Alberto Garofalo, president, of Bank of America New Jersey. Garofalo continued, “Our hope is that they will recognize just how much of an impact they can have at these organizations, and will continue to leave their mark on the community long after graduation.”

For the experience, every community-minded high schooler was paired with a non-profit. There, they received the opportunity to immerse themselves in day-to-day activities of the organization to gain an understanding of the work done. They also involved themselves in meaningful activities and decision-making.

“This experience [has] enhanced my understanding of nonprofit management and the critical role that they play in our communities…I have recognized the crucial role [they] play in filling gaps where governmental intervention might be lacking, ” Pinckney said. Pickney worked in Newark.

At the Boys & Girls Club of Hudson County, Patel, who founded her high school’s Scholarship Club and now serves as co-president, interned at the Boys & Girls Club of Hudson County. There she picked up a few jewels that she can use in her future career, as she strives to assist students with scholarship essays and holds fundraisers of her own. “I learned leadership skills,” Patel told Ark Republic.

As participants in the 2023 cohort, all of the New Jersey teens apprenticed at one of the branches of the Boys & Girls Club with the exception of Alam. The Highland Park High student interned for Elijah’s Promise, a non-profit in New Brunswick, New Jersey that uses food to break the cycle of hunger and poverty and transform lives.

New Jersey teens in Bank of America program. (top) The internship included a weeklong leadership summit in Washington DC. (below) New Jersey teens who participated in 8-week internship. Photo credit: Bank of America communications

Make your mark

Undoubtedly, Boys & Girls Club of Newark’s Vice President of Operations, Cynthia M. Banks witnessed Pinckney and Ametekpor dive right into their roles.

The Director of Operations, who began her career as an educator before joining the nonprofit sector 40 years ago, shared with Ark Republic that the student leaders spent their time in the STEM area, shadowed the Key Staff Director of Development and Metrics, and engaged with the Human Resources Division. “They [also] got to work with me,” pointed out Banks.

“I watched them in action…They were additional staff,” Banks told Ark Republic.

“They [were] positive role models for our children to [speak to] and it shows them that anything is possible if you work hard and stay focused,” Banks continued.

But Ametekpor already understood the assignment before he entered the door. Ametekpor, who serves as the president of the Black Student Union at his school and frequently participates in food and clothing drives as a way of giving back to his community, learned the importance of adaptability.

“I always had a task to complete as an intern, whether filing paperwork or assisting with camp lunches. I demonstrated flexibility in any job presented to me, intending to make the workload on the staff smoother…I make it a point to showcase my adaptability anywhere I find myself,” noted Ametekpor.

Similarly, Pinckney, who also leads the Black Student Union group at his school, learned important lessons about childcare, within the context of a nonprofit organization. 

Moreover, Pinckney “learned how [nonprofits] operate, including the intricacies of grant writing and fundraising that are essential for their sustainability.” 

According to Banks, sometimes it’s bigger than a check. It is also about empowering and enriching the minds of the children. Undeniably, Pinckney, Ametekpor, and Patel discovered that. 

What the future holds

Each pupil’s prior educational experiences have had an impact on the career path they intend to take.

Pinckney used his seventh-grade experience of being one out of three Black students. During that time, he felt as though he did not belong, which served as the spark to lead the Black Student Union. 

“As a leader, I provide guidance and organize events that promote cultural awareness, [the] discussion of relevant issues, and unity among the members drawing from my own experiences.”

Now, he wants to ensure that students have a sense of belonging and a space that they can be comfortable in. As well, he plans to contribute to the mission of organizations such as Not Orange in their fight against gun violence.

“In the future, I hope to continue developing my leadership skills, particularly in areas like strategic planning, team management, and community outreach, as I work towards my goals of promoting educational equity and supporting nonprofit initiatives,” said Pinckney.

Moving forward, Patel plans to use the leadership-related experience she acquired from the program at her high school’s Business & Entrepreneurship Club where she teaches financial literacy to students.

“Sticking to and making firm decisions is an important part of entrepreneurship,” is a nugget she acquired at the national leadership summit in Washington D.C., an all-expense paid, week-long trip all of the student leaders were able to attend. 

Comparably, fellow 2023 honoree Ametekpor, also intends to leverage his strong network and newfound talents to improve New Jersey. In fact, he “has already begun.” Admittedly, the teen started assisting students at his school in expressing themselves and developing leadership skills. Specifically, he utilizes the annual Black History Month (BHM) Showcase to highlight multiple aspects of Black culture. 

Recently, he advocated for the expansion of Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies to his learning institution’s curriculum, by making it clear to the College Board, the students’ demand for more Black History lessons as well as the significance of his school being named after New Jersey’s first Black Congressman Donald M. Payne, Sr. 

“In the upcoming school year, I plan to become a Senior Mentor. [They] help their Freshman mentees bridge the gap between middle to high school through activities and encouragement,” shared Ametekpor.

Clubs, according to the state director of Boys & Girls Clubs in New Jersey, Susan Haspel, enable all young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.


Be that as it may, when it comes to finding employment in their sector, seasoned ​​Black and brown professionals face greater barriers entering their field.

Indeed, Director of Higher Education and Workforce Policy Satra Taylor knows this as well as anyone. She recalls graduating from college with her bachelor’s degree and realizing she needed more credentials because of the different workforce discrimination. “And truth be told, even when I got my master’s degree, I could only get an internship,” Taylor disclosed to Ark Republic.

According to a survey conducted by the National Association of College and Employers (NACE), internships position students to nab better-paying jobs and receive more job offers, but for the employers themselves, “internships provided the best return on investment (ROI) as a recruiting strategy.” However, students of color often are afforded fewer internships, especially ones that pay.

In fact, companies who took part in the National Association of College and Employers (NACE’s) Job Outlook 2023 Spring Update survey said they anticipate a 3.9 percent rise in full-time hiring, which is less than the 9.1 percent increase employers anticipate in intern hiring over the prior academic year 2022-2023 according to the 2023 NACE Executive Summary

Journalist established in 2001, inspired by transformative leads.

Daunting as the transition from the classroom to the workplace may be, Bank of America along with Elijah’s Promise and the Boys & Girls Club increased the likelihood of the students being hired by giving them a boost in career preparedness to achieve remarkable success.

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