Jessica Fick is the National Community Engagement Mananger for Citizen Schools. Abdullah knew he wanted to be a professional football player. On the very first day of the networking class I led with Cognizant employees, Joelle Quilla and Young Lee, at the Louise A. Spencer School in Newark, New Jersey, Abdullah told me about his dream to join the NFL.
During the class, called 6 Degrees, we wanted to help the students gain professional networking skills so that they can achieve any career in the future. I wasn't sure how to respond to Abdullah. I didn’t want to crush his dreams, but I also wanted to make sure he was setting himself up for educational success. What happened over the next ten weeks was nothing short of amazing...
I wanted to better relate to Abdullah and my other students so I did some research. I came across an article on the NFL players association website that explained that professional football players only play in the NFL for an average of three years. I knew I could use this to connect with Abdullah.
In the next class, I had a one-on-one conversation with him where I shared my newfound information. I then asked him, “If you are only playing in the NFL from ages 23 to 26, what do you want your career to be from 26-60?” This got his attention.
Throughout the semester Abdullah held on to his NFL dream, but he did a great job exploring other careers as well, like becoming an FBI agent or a mechanical engineer. Last week, Abdullah and the 6 Degrees students attended a networking session at Cognizant's office. Abdullah worked the room. He talked to every Cognizant employee in attendance.
I overheard a conversation that he had with a woman from Human Resources. He said, “How old do you have to be to work in this building?” She chuckled and said, “It isn’t about age. You have to get good grades, graduate, and go to college.”
He then went on to question her about all of the things he needs to do to work at Cognizant one day. He even asked if she would hire him and smiled when he got an affirmative response. I was so proud.
My co-teacher Joelle Quilla was thrilled as well. She said, "Education is a great equalizer. Cognizant’s workforce is about as diverse as they come, employing people from all over the world with different backgrounds, economic circumstances, cultures, and experiences. The common denominator is that all associates are educated, passionate and committed to working together towards a common goal. It would be easy to see Abdullah in this type of environment."
Abdullah had a Catalyst Moment this semester. After his trip to Cognizant, he wants to be a mechanical engineer and work for Cognizant one day. The 6 Degrees apprenticeship helped him learn the importance and power of education and he even discovered a new dream.