What do you think of when you hear the words “work study”? If you said a program to help college students earn money to pay for school, you would be correct. But Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Milwaukee offers the benefits of a work study program to a younger crowd.
What is the Cristo Rey Jesuit Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP)? It’s a curriculum that provides a comprehensive, affordable, Catholic high-school education to students who come from families with limited financial means. All students work five full-days a month at companies across the greater Milwaukee area. Through the program, students gain confidence, connect the relevance of their academic coursework to future employment, acquire skills that will benefit their career, and receive unprecedented access to the professional world.
The Cristo Rey Jesuit CWSP boasts some truly impressive numbers:
- One hundred percent of students in the graduating class of 2019 are first-generation college students.
- A whopping 1,250 hours of professional work experience is completed by every student by the time he or she graduates.
- Retention of the founding corporate partners is more than 90 percent.
- Seventy companies and nonprofit organizations throughout greater Milwaukee are currently CWSP partners.
Finding a Good Fit
Now enter MRA member Milliman, an international actuarial and management consulting company specializing in different areas, with an office in Brookfield, WI. Milliman has been a CWSP partner for three years, one year shy of when the Milwaukee program started. A retired employee brought the program to the company’s attention, the owners loved the idea and the rest is history.
“It’s a great program. It’s a true partnership with the students and the school,” said Karina Van Doren, aPHR, Human Resources Assistant. “Each corporate partner is in it for the good of the kids, and the school makes sure of it. That said, we’ve gotten more out of the program than we ever imagined we would.”
It started by determining what practical jobs Milliman had available and if they could make it work. Once it was determined they were a great fit for the program, Milliman executives attended an open house and lunch at the school, specifically for prospective partners. They toured the school and the classrooms, talked with students, and learned about the background of the program. The last step was for Milliman’s supervisors (those who would manage the students) to attend an orientation, so they could get fully up to speed on how it all works.
All in a Day’s Work
With its fleet of 12 vans, Cristo Rey Jesuit staff drives each student to and from their work study assignment every day. Students dress the part by wearing their school uniforms, (including ties for the gentlemen), arrive on time, and are ready to work their full day when they get there.
Tasks vary, depending on the functional area where the students are placed (like accounting or facilities). Entry-level roles including administrative duties, delivering mail, computer work (formatting presentations or preparing a survey), stocking kitchens, scanning projects, taking inventory, and organizing the company swag are a few things the students do at Milliman. Additionally, they are included in some meetings, birthday celebrations, group walks outside, and are encouraged to eat with other Milliman employees at lunchtime.
“In the beginning, working in a professional setting, especially for the freshmen, is definitely outside their comfort zone. But the kids start to learn how to talk in an office and how to converse openly,” said Andrew Bainbridge, Director of Administration at Milliman. “It takes extra work for us to help get them out of their shells, it’s an effort to grow the relationships and take the time for the learning curve when showing them the ropes. But when it starts to click and they feel more comfortable, it’s incredibly rewarding to experience.”
Like many in the professional world, students complete a daily timesheet and log what they’ve accomplished. They also have regular supervisor reviews that go over their performance. In turn, students take surveys about their supervisors to make sure everyone is on the same page.
The money the kids earn is paid directly to Cristo Rey Jesuit High School from Milliman to offset the cost of their schooling, making the students the largest investors in their education.
Maria, who was just a freshman, was challenged by the Sphero Program at Cristo Rey Jesuit to present to her Milliman group as if it was a part of her job. She selected the subject of programming language, something she learned about in her robotics class. While presenting, the 14-year-old educated the group and was asked and answered numerous questions. Now, everyone knows her, and she has developed some great working relationships. In fact, Milliman hired her on as a summer student of Cristo Rey Jesuit, where students get to keep their paychecks from any summer employment.
“Supporting the students with a positive, professional experience is what this program’s purpose is all about,” said Bainbridge. “Will any of our work study students become actuaries? Honestly, that doesn’t matter. We just want to see them grow from their experience here.”
This past May several Milliman employees were front and center at senior Jose’s high school graduation ceremony. “Jose is a great kid and we’ve all watched him grow into the awesome young man he’s become,” said Van Doren. “He wants to be an eye doctor and one of our employees who knows someone at an optical retail store helped him get a full-time job there after graduation. He’s now attending Marquette University in Milwaukee with a bright future ahead. And we are really proud of him."
Cristo Rey Jesuit, a Catholic high school for young women and men of all faiths and limited financial means, integrates rigorous academics, professional work experiences, and spiritual development to empower graduates to succeed in college and life.
By Sue Piette, Writer