When It Comes to Career Readiness, It Matters Who You Know.

American Student Assistance
4 min readJun 26, 2024

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A look at how two organizations are changing the way kids build social capital earlier on.

Social capital — the network of personal and professional relationships that enable kids to understand their future options and the paths and resources available to attain them — is vital to a young person’s education-to-career journey and their advancement in the working world. According to ASA research, more than 40% of jobs come through referrals and personal connections.

This means that a kid might have all the “on-paper” skills needed for a particular career path, but if they haven’t spent time getting to know professionals in that space, they’re at a significant disadvantage compared to their peers who have participated in a work-based learning experience or some other kind of career exploration program.

On the other side of that coin, employers may be reluctant to hire someone who doesn’t have the bonafide backing of another industry professional to vouch for that candidate’s skills and abilities.

So, how do we ensure that all kids are able to build social capital, find mentors, and establish a broader network of caring adults who can give them the tools and confidence they need to pursue their dream path after high school?

We at ASA were thrilled to welcome two organizations to our group of 2024 grantees who focus on doing exactly that. Here’s a look at how these innovators are changing the way kids access and build significant networks before they’ve graduated from high school!

Boosting student engagement and career-connected networking opportunities through community-engaged learning

CommunityShare is a nonprofit organization that’s transforming education by weaving learning ecosystems that foster student engagement, career readiness, and a sense of belonging. By focusing on community-engaged, real-world learning experiences, CommunityShare creates meaningful connections between students, educators, and professionals in their own local communities.

With ASA’s three-year grant, CommunityShare will expand its capacity-building support for educators, regional organizations, and its innovative digital matching platform. This platform is a crucial tool that serves as a “human library” that connects educators and young people with the wealth of wisdom, skills, and expertise that professionals in their regional communities possess. From scientists and researchers to university faculty and entrepreneurs, these professionals serve as mentors, internship hosts, and content experts, collaborating with educators to ignite real-world, relevant learning experiences for students.

By making these connections, CommunityShare expands social capital for young people, builds a strong and capable talent pipeline for employers, and facilitates the co-creation of transformative learning experiences, which range from a few visits to year-long projects.

These diverse initiatives have included geospatial technology experts mentoring high school and middle school students to use GIS technology to map and analyze local green infrastructure inequities; professional glass blowers teaching physics, chemistry, creativity, and entrepreneurship to high schoolers through hands-on activities; and college students gaining practical experience in the medical field through connections to their local college faculty and current nursing students.

Through these efforts, CommunityShare will not only enhance educational outcomes but also build more durable and connected communities. Their work ensures that students are better prepared for their future education and career paths, and more deeply engaged in their learning journeys while growing their networks. You can learn more about CommunityShare in this recent Forbes article.

With generous support and partnership from ASA, CommunityShare is transforming our communities into regional learning ecosystems by activating real-world learning experiences for thousands of students. Through these experiences, students and educators expand their social capital — the community connections that fuel opportunity — by connecting with a human library of community partners who bring wisdom, skills, and lived experiences to learning.

These connections create powerful opportunities for students to develop transferable skills and agency, discover career and college pathways, and imagine future possibilities. This partnership with ASA allows us to level the playing field and ensure thousands of young people have the opportunities, connections, and support they need to realize their full potential.

-Josh Schachter, Founder & Executive Director, CommunityShare.

Scaling access to social capital through online mentorship

iCouldBe is revolutionizing support for and empowerment of high school students by offering an online network of professional mentors. This initiative empowers teens to excel in school, plan their future careers, and achieve their life goals.

With their three-year grant from ASA, iCouldBe is set to enhance and expand its digital platform, strengthening mentoring relationships that focus on building students’ interpersonal skills and networks of support.

The grant will also fund several exciting new initiatives: the launch of a youth advisory board, a paid internship program, and an alumni program to support mentees even after they complete the program. With these developments, iCouldBe is poised to make an even greater impact on the lives and future prospects of young people.

iCouldBe’s virtual mentoring program guides students to develop broad networks of support that open new opportunity doors for academic and career success.

Students engage one-on-one with their mentor in activities that strengthen and expand real-life connections to help students develop self-knowledge, map academic and career paths and identify tactical steps to achieve their goals. Students grow their network of support including relationships with teachers, family members, counselors, coaches, peers and community members, and iCouldBe brokers new relationships with multiple mentors who are in careers they are most interested in learning about and pursuing.

With the generous support from ASA, iCouldBe is working to expand our programs to support our students to and through post-secondary experiences and into their careers, allowing us to continue to provide access to mentors and opportunities that will lay the foundation for our students to achieve economic mobility.

-Kate Schrauth, Executive Director, iCouldBe.

For more on the immense impact of social capital on a young person’s education and career trajectory, check out our report Spotlight on High School Internships: Opening Doors to In-Demand Skills, Social Capital, & Greater Career Certainty.

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American Student Assistance

ASA is changing the way kids learn about careers and navigate postsecondary pathways through exploration, work-based learning, and free digital experiences.