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Centering Student Passion and Identity

A Unique Approach to College Access and Career Readiness

A Gap in College Access Programs

Educational interventions in New York City have attempted to address racial and socioeconomic disparities in college enrollment, workplace entry, and diversity pipelines for decades. Despite these efforts, racial and socioeconomic disparities continue to exist for the over 1.1 million students attending NYC public schools where less than half of Black and Latinx students attending high-poverty schools graduate high school, and among those who do, less than 15% are college-ready, while recording the lowest college attendance rates and increasingly low college graduation rates (NCES, 2017). These racial disparities extend past schooling and are glaring in the workforce, where people of color continue to be underrepresented. While significant strides have been made by existing intervention programs to remedy these disparities, interventions largely ignore the well-documented finding that low income youth of color not only have higher educational aspirations and expectations than their middle class White peers (Allensworth, 2006; Downey, 2002; McDonough, 2004), but have significantly lower career expectations (Conkell-Ziebell and Gushue,2018). Furthermore, research shows that preparing marginalized youth for successful careers must begin as early as possible, as “restricted patterns of career aspirations” often begin as early as middle school for low income youth (Turner & Lapan, 2003).

A Solution - NYU College & Career Lab

Using this research to guide the program model, NYU College & Career Lab (CCL) seeks to ignite students' interests and passions and activate their career desires by exposing them to the wide range of career opportunities available to them and to the diversity that exists within them. CCL capitalizes on the students’ strong aspirations and guides them through translating their goals into concrete pathways to ensure college and career success, and creates a natural pathway of students armed with strong social emotional and self-advocacy skills and a network of support, ready and eager to enter the workplace.

Launched in 2018 under the leadership of Charlton McIlwain, NYU Vice Provost for Faculty Engagement and Development, CCL is a year-round, academically rigorous, and experientially rich college and career preparatory program, offered free-of-charge to low-income and first-generation youth of color in the New York City public schooling system beginning in eighth grade through the summer before college. CCL exposes youth, who often have a limited understanding of career options, to a wide array of academic and career pathways by providing access to role models, expanding students' social capital, and implementing a unique preparation model. This model capitalizes on students' interests and weaves identity development in the curriculum, incorporating college lectures with university faculty and activities with professionals that span across disciplines and industries. NYU school partners include NYU School of Law, Stern School of Business, Tisch School of the Arts, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, Tandon School of Engineering, School of Global Public Health, Rory Meyers College of Nursing, The College of Dentistry, The Office of Sustainability, as well as academic programs from The College of Arts and Science and NYU University Life offices.

A photo of Katlyn Martins holding a microphone

I love how we did not only go to one school at NYU, but were able to learn about many different majors and careers. Because of this program, I want to say one thing to my future college self: No matter where I go, what accomplishments or disappointments I may have, I hope I remember anything is possible because of this program.

Katlyn Martins, rising 8th grader

CCL accepts rising 8th and 9th graders to attend a five week summer and year round program that serves as a content rich and activity-driven program delivered by faculty, alumni, and industry professionals to introduce students to career options, foundational principles of higher education, career exploration, and networking and leadership skills. The content and principles introduced allows students to craft concrete pathways that threads through their academic journey and propels them into success. Once rising 8th and 9th graders have participated in the exploratory program, they are invited, from 10th grade to pre-college, to apply for an additional two-week immersive program exploring one specific subject area of their interest and continued skill development for ultimate success on their next path.

Image of Kate Sum, rising 9th grader with cohort members Autumn Hadnot and Rahzal Rahaman holding certificates of completion

This program helped me so much in pinpointing what I’m truly interested in and what I should do in preparation for college. It taught me so much about myself, and which majors I have possible interests in and which I don’t. Most importantly, it has opened my mind to learning about careers I never considered before.

Kate Sum, rising 9th grader

What CCL Offers

  • Engagement in Dynamic Experiential Learning: CCL draws upon NYU’s vast industry and public sector partnerships and networks to curate a robust set of experiences outside of the K-12 academic setting. Students engage in site visits to diverse agencies such as the Bronx Defenders and NAACP headquarters, Facebook’s New York City headquarters, Dolby Soho, Financial Tech Traders with Modern Market Initiatives, and others to learn about various public and private institutions and the professional pathways within them. 
  • Creation of New Social Capital: NYU’s host schools activate their exceptional student and alumni networks to contribute to and enhance the CCL student experience. CCL students receive mentorship from CCL advisors, as well as additional mentorship from NYU and external partners during their academic sessions. Alumni guest speakers have included professional filmmakers, bankers, roboticists, urban planners, nurses, dentists, and many more. Learning from current students and alumni continues to be a highlight of the program for participating students.
  • Access to NYU’s Renowned Faculty and Curricula: Students participate in undergraduate lectures with University faculty across all of NYU’s schools and departments to stimulate interest and passion in subject areas that students might not have been aware of prior to participating in CCL. Introductory course topics range from accounting to theatre, first-amendment law to neurology, philosophy and beyond.
  • Development of Social Emotional Learning Skills: Recognizing that academic and career pathways require skills beyond content knowledge, CCL programming includes workshops designed to build social emotional skills through decision making and self-advocacy, engage students in networking and relationship building, and demonstrate how to apply these life tools and skills in moments of self doubt and hardships. CCL often trains and works with advisors from the NYU Chapter of the College Advising Corps (CAC), and NYU undergraduate students from Opportunity Programs, to serve as CCL advisors during the program.
  • Year-Round Academic Programming: Throughout the academic year, students participate in a series of half day to three-day fall and spring touchpoints designed to provide opportunities to learn about university life, the college application process, and applying networking and resume-building skills to the middle school and high school experience. Students continue to learn from faculty and practitioners, and there is ample opportunity for them to receive guidance from their CCL advisors regarding high school and college preparation. Additionally, CCL staff offer “Office Hours” for students to receive personalized assistance to their questions.

COVID-19 Response: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CCL operated remotely during the summer and fall of 2020. The program ran for three weeks with roughly ninety students. Students, faculty, and university partners engaged in various synchronous online sessions, including a remote video production with Tisch School of the Arts, alumni conversations with Stern School of Business, a cavity experiment with students at NYU College of Dentistry and a meditation session with a Stienhardt Music Therapy alumni.

Call to Participate

The NYU College & Career Lab is always looking to expand experiential learning opportunities, as well as the number of individuals our students interact with in the program! We value each narrative and hope to show students that often pathways are not linear, and that many interests can intersect to become a gratifying career. If you, your organization, or someone you know would be a great partner for CCL, contact us at 

If you know a student who would benefit from our program send us an email at to be added to our communication list and get notified about upcoming webinars. The application becomes available in January 2021.

The College & Career Lab is directed by Alexandria Meier under the leadership of Charlton MIlwain, Vice Provost for Faculty Engagement and participating school hosts. The program is further supported by a fabulous team: CCL Faculty Research Director- Sebastian Cherng, Associate Professor of International Education, Mickey Bronstein, Research Analyst and Program Coordinator and Alessandra Rangel, Program Coordinator.


Written By:

Alexandria Meier, Program Director
Alexandria develops Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives for NYU. She is the program director of CCL and her role is to organize the program and develop content and curriculum. 

Mickey Bronstein, Program Coordinator
Mickey Bronstein is a writer and analyst for College and Career Lab. Her role is to research best practices for interventions, particularly during pandemic times, as well as assist with programmatic elements. 

Alessandra Rangel, Program Coordinator 
Alessandra Rangel is a CCL program officer and researcher. Her role is to assist in the research of CCL and its impact evaluation.