LaKissa Bright was a first-generation college student. She didn’t receive her first internship opportunity until college, but during her daughter’s senior year of high school, she noticed other students were listing numerous opportunities on their college applications. These opportunities included work history, volunteer opportunities, and most importantly internships. At the time, she was unable to find any local internships available for her daughter in the Williamson County area.
She saw this as a chance to create the internship opportunity that her daughter was missing. Her intentions were to help other students not only identify their passions early on but to also help them become more competitive in comparison to their peers. She recognized the need for students to first be introduced to various industries before applying for scholarships, heading off to college, or entering the workforce.
And so Ladders for Leaders was born to help fill that void and provide internships for students in Williamson County aged 16-18. The name represents a ladder as an elevation for the leaders that she hopes to develop through her organization.
Since 2018, Ladders for Leaders has partnered with businesses in various industries, including business management, hospitality/tourism, information technology, and real estate/property.
The internships are typically completed in the summer, and interns work approximately 20 hours per week. They check in with the site supervisors and complete actual timesheets. Students selected for paid internships receive a minimum of $9 per hour, as funding permits. Business partners may also have a separate agreement to pay their interns directly.
Students must apply and be interviewed by both Ladders for Leaders leadership and prospective internship employers. Those selected receive job training and mentoring for the duration of the internship.
But before they’re sent to work, students go through “Ladders for Leaders University,” which provides them with critical pre-job training, including resume and LinkedIn workshops, and Interviewing 101 and Internship Etiquette sessions. During these sessions, students also have the opportunity to have professional headshots taken for a small fee.
The biggest challenge that Ladders for Leaders faces is the need for more business partner engagements. Internships not only provide opportunities for the students but they have proven to be equally beneficial for the business as well. One business partner expressed how a student intern actually helped her increase the bottom line for her business.
Throughout the year, Ladders for Leaders staff works hard to identify and secure more opportunities for student interns. In addition to internships, the organization provides additional programs to help empower students, like Gen Z Votes and Investing 101. Gen Z Votes focuses on educating students about the importance of voting and offers them an opportunity to register to vote if they’re of age. Investing 101 focuses on teaching students about the importance of saving and investing. Both of these programs are open to all students and provided in a virtual format.
The biggest impact that Ladders for Leaders have seen is the effect that the internships have had on students
Bright sees an expansion in the near future for the organization. Currently, Ladders for Leaders only serves students in Williamson County, but with increased awareness, impact, and visibility, she hopes that the organization will begin to include more students from Travis County and beyond. With the increase in the availability of student interns, LaKissa also looks forward to more business partnerships.
“The biggest impact that Ladders for Leaders have seen is the effect that the internships have had on students,” Bright says. “Seeing students get exposed to different industries before they go off to college has had the biggest impact. We help them see what’s out there and make educated decisions. A student recently interned for an optometrist. She had an idea of what she wanted to do and the internship opportunity further confirmed her decision. That’s the goal of the program.”