Over the week-long Spring Break in April, when students could have been sleeping, working, or hanging with friends, a several students from the four Promise Corps schools were in a high rise in Center City Philadelphia presenting about issues affecting their neighborhoods and solutions that could be implemented to address them. They presented to a panel of Chief Executive Officers, senior analysts, program managers, and more.
The idea behind Think Tank, as the event is called, is to connect young Philadelphians with professionals who can help them hone and implement their own ideas to positively affect their communities. Panelists ranged from those native to Philadelphia and those who came to the City of Brotherly Love from elsewhere. They included those who work in the public space – some in government and some in education. Many panelists are career changers. Though they have a wide range of experiences and backgrounds, all the panelists know what it is to work in public service. Because of the passion, each of them wanted to participate in this event to support students who are showing an interest early on by giving feedback to their presentations and advice for the future.
Students presented on various topics, including youth violence, human trafficking, alternatives to athletics in extracurricular activities, and the dearth of counselors in Philadelphia public schools. Their presentations of the issues not only included statistics backing up the magnitude of these problems, but also personal anecdotes making these issues feel tangible for those in the room. This was something the panelists all commented on as adding a sense of urgency and a call to action following the presentations.
Solutions included creating a crisis and support center for victims of human trafficking, expanding extracurricular programs to give students a voice and to combat youth violence, and creating a program to increase the number of counselors and mentors in Philadelphia high schools.
The feedback to the students from the panelists was both constructive and insightful. Some of the feedback involved presentation skills, such as projecting their voices more, and some feedback included ideas for making their arguments stronger. All in all, the panelists were impressed at the amount of work that went into the presentations, and the amount of courage it took to get up in front of a room of people to present their findings. In addition to constructive criticism, the panelists shared advice with students as they start to think about life after high school and potential careers. The students were encouraged to take their time finding the perfect career and to continually build their skills – opportunity will strike at the right time. They were encouraged to keep participating in events like Think Tank, “because you’ll never know who you might meet and where those relationships will take you.”
Their words were honest, too, and some panelists admitted they are still trying to figure out their own career paths. Having had a mind for public service since high school, one panelist told students new to the public sector not to be afraid to take risks, and to avoid letting others limit them.
Think Tank proved to be not only a way for students to get involved in their communities, but a venue for them to explore their future options in public service and gain experience as well.