Vertex and Bottom Line join forces to create student pipeline for Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan talent

The Business Journals Content Studio

By Laura Newpoff – Contributor

Jun 12, 2019

When the nonprofit Bottom Line was founded in 1997 to help increase career-ready college graduates, a good guarantor of success was the completion of a bachelor’s degree. These days, simply turning a tassel from right to left isn’t enough as companies operating in the world’s most competitive economy seek top-tier talent with a proven skillset.

That’s why Bottom Line enlisted the corporate community to open doors to internships and full-time jobs for their young people who are  first-generation college students from low-income backgrounds. One company that expressed an immediate interest was Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

“They recognized there is a benefit to the company to invest in this,” said Justin Strasburger, executive director of Bottom Line's Boston region. “While it’s the right thing to do from a corporate social responsibility standpoint, they also recognize the competition for talent is fierce. If they have an opportunity to partner with an organization like ours to access a diverse, local talent pool, they can provide our students internships while they’re in college to get them excited about a career.”

‘A win-win-win’

Vertex has committed $50 million over the next 10 years to expand science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) opportunities for students in low-income communities. So far, 19 of Bottom Line’s students have participated in internships at Vertex and six of its students have received the Vertex Science Leaders Scholarship, a four-year, full-ride award for any University of Massachusetts campus and two scholarships are expected to be awarded this summer.

Stephanie Franklin, Vertex’s senior vice president and chief human resource officer, said the Bottom Line partnership is core to the company’s values. “We share with Bottom Line a really strong belief that education is one of the most powerful forces for economic and social change.”

Based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics only 14 percent of low-income students graduate with a bachelor's degree in less than eight years. This is compared with 29 percent of middle-income students, according to Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America.

“It’s a win-win-win,” Franklin said of Bottom Line and Vertex being partners in the Lewis Family Foundation’s Jobs Action Tank. “For students, we provide the opportunity they need to reach their potential. For us, we’re tapping into an incredible sea of talent right in our back yard. And for the city of Boston, it expands opportunities to its citizens and strengthens our entire community.”

The Jobs Action Tank supports key community organizations to place 700 young people from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan into full-time jobs earning at least $38,000 in annual income.

The most recent 2017 data from the American Community Survey indicates a 25 percent unemployment rate in the last 12 months from the same neighborhoods. Only 41 percent were employed full-time year-round.

The tools to succeed

Bottom Line’s work involves supporting its students with the guidance and resources they need to apply to college, see the process through to a degree, and into a high-quality job.

“The majority of our Vertex interns have come from low-income communities and attend local colleges,” Strasburger said. “Some companies might say, ‘Hey, we only want Ivy League students,’ because they don’t know a better way to source candidates. But a student from Bridgewater State can be every bit as talented as someone going to Harvard. Once a company gets one of our interns in the door, I’m confident they’ll see how high caliber they are.”

One Bottom Line student who received Vertex internships and a scholarship is Sayed Shah. He’s poised to graduate in 2020 from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and mathematics. Thanks to the partnership, he started his third internship at Vertex in May.

“For people like us [first-generation and immigrant] that connection is very important because I did apply to other internships, and they’re very difficult to get,” he said. “The internship is really a crucial part of all this. Because if a person comes out of college with no prior experience, it’s very unlikely a company will pick that person versus someone with two or three years of experience.”

In 2014, Shah moved to the U.S. from Pakistan, and lives in Mattapan. As a high school student with the Boston International Newcomers Academy, he regularly visited Vertex’s Thomas M. Menino Learning Lab with his class.

During his first Vertex internship, Shah worked in the field of bioinformatics and spent time in the lab growing cells and performing DNA-related experiments. His second internship was in scientific computing and allowed him to create a website where data is stored so charts and graphics can be created on the fly without having to input the information manually. The third internship will involve converting an old version of the Python programming language to a new version.

“For many of our first-generation college students, they may not have had role models who experienced a corporate or biotech environment,” Franklin said. “For us, it’s not just about getting them in the door, it’s also about inclusion and giving them the tools they need to succeed here – mentorship, networking and a welcoming culture where they feel valued and respected.”

Interested in getting involved, or have a successful partnership story to share that focuses on hiring young people from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan into full-time jobs? Visit the Lewis Family Foundation’s job page for more information.

The vision of the Lewis Family Foundation is that young people from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan live in and reinvest their service, capital, and intellect to ensure that their neighborhoods continue to thrive and are places of opportunity and access.

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer with The Business Journals Content Studio.