A New Field of Dreams
By: Eugene K. Chow
Having grown up on the baseball diamond, Jaquan Murphy, 24, is accustomed to teamwork and coaching others. So when he joined COOP, a Robin Hood-funded job training program that uses a cooperative, peer-led model, he felt right at home.
“COOP gave me a new set of dreams other than playing centerfield for the Yankees,” he said with a laugh.
Jaquan is among the growing number of COOP alumni who have found new career paths in digital marketing.
Talented, driven, and with nowhere to go, too many recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. Nationwide, more than half of college graduates and nearly 70% of black graduates lack jobs or are in jobs that don’t require a degree.
Born in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and raised in Canarsie, Jaquan is the first male in his family to graduate college.
Like many of his classmates at Kingsborough Community College and later City College, he had to work throughout school to support himself as he earned his associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. First it was the supermarket, then the Adidas shop, and finally Niketown. The jobs paid a decent salary for a college kid, but were just that — a job, not a career.
In his final semester at City College, Kalani Leifer, the founder and executive director of COOP, gave a presentation to Jaquan’s advertising class to generate interest and recruit members for the program.
The timing was perfect. Jaquan was uncertain about his path after graduating and COOP sparked his curiosity.
“I had never heard of digital marketing before,” he remembers. “So it opened up a whole new world for me. I had no clue what I would have done if I didn’t join COOP. I’d probably still be at Nike trying to rank up.”
He applied, interviewed, and was accepted to the free program.
Like all COOP participants, he became a member of a 10–15 person cohort, led by a volunteer captain who had been in their shoes just a few months earlier.
For the next 16 weeks, he and his team members attended over 60 workshops and received 200 hours of valuable training in digital marketing as well as interview and presentation skills. Together, they gained technical expertise, formed bonds, and supported one another throughout the process.
Jaquan credits his cohort coach Elise with helping to ignite a real interest in digital marketing.
“Her enthusiasm rubbed off on me and gave me a passion for the industry,” he recalls. “It was clear she really enjoyed it and that got me excited. I had been in school for marketing and PR, but [digital marketing] was a side I had never seen.”
Late one night as the program was entering its final phase, he received a text from Kalani with a tip on a great internship at Pricing Engine, an internet marketing startup. The next morning Jaquan sent in his application. He interviewed and was accepted.
Just five months after graduating he gained the skills and experience to start his newfound career in digital marketing. He is now an account manager at Pricing Engine responsible for launching, managing, and optimizing search engine ad campaigns for clients. The company is relatively small, so he has the opportunity to monitor budgets, lead projects, and assist in the hiring of new employees.
In a pleasant twist, his new job also draws on his passion for sports and his experience as a college baseball player. He is particularly excited about his latest clients — Storelli, which makes protective soccer gear, and Shooin, which allows fans to purchase tickets for their favorite sports teams.
“It’s a great fit because I really know college sports,” he said. “I’m just as excited about digital marketing and marketing as I am about baseball!”
Now, he is eager to help open doors for others like him. For the past two COOP sessions, he has been a cohort captain sharing his knowledge and experience with recent CUNY graduates. He is also back on the field as a baseball coach for a local team in Canarsie for boys 16 and under, which he helped start.
“I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for COOP and baseball. The least I can do is give back,” he said. “My goal to get as many [people] to the next step. I want them to be able to say that I had an impact on their life like my coaches and Kalani had on mine.”
COOP is a Robin Hood-funded job training program that helps recent CUNY graduates, who are underemployed or unemployed, launch their careers in digital marketing. More than just tech skills, COOP creates a tightly-knit community by breaking participants into small cohorts led by COOP alumni who are a few steps ahead in their career. Each cohort learns together, shares knowledge, and supports one another throughout the process.