Genesys Works opening IT doors for Minnesota’s disadvantaged students


Genesys Works Twin CitiesWith another successful Draft Day in the books, Genesys Works will be sending more than 150 underprivileged high school students on their way to internships with local companies, helping to clear an obstacle-filled path toward college and professional success in the IT field.

August’s Draft Day ceremony, which took place at the St. Paul Hotel, was the fifth annual iteration of the event put on by the local Twin Cities branch of the Houston based organization. Their guiding mission is to close the country’s educational achievement gap and create opportunities for students from low-income and — often impoverished — environments.

“What we’ve discovered is that the experience of succeeding as a young professional as part of a corporate team helps these students that are coming from disadvantaged backgrounds to see that there is a place for them in the professional work world,” says Jeff Tollefson, Executive Director of Genesys Works.

Minnesota’s Draft Day has grown considerably since its humble beginnings four years ago, when a total of 11 students were placed in internships. This year, 165 students were matched up with major corporations such as Medtronic, 3M, Cargill, Best Buy and Target. The event is designed to resemble a pro sports draft party, with selected draftees having the opportunity to meet their new employers and engage in photo ops while rocking their “jersey” (branded swag from the company).

While the opportunity is a great one, it is also a hard-earned one. Over the summer, these young students – who are just now entering their senior years of high school – went through an intensive eight-week IT course to prepare them for the tasks ahead. Only the most outstanding performers have moved on to this next phase, but as a result they’ll be true assets to the companies they now join as paid interns working about 20 hours per week while also going to school.

Following the Draft Day, Genesys Works held a “Suited Up” ceremony, where donors contributed clothing and money to dress these students in professional outfits so that they’d be ready to fit in at their first day of work.

“They are now slowly becoming the role models that underclassmen aspire to be more like,” says Tollefson, noting that these interns show up to school dressed in workplace attire and leave halfway through the day for their corporate jobs. “It’s fun to see the interest in the program developing as a result.”

The student interns are contracted by Genesys Works itself, so the company essentially functions as an IT staffing agency. As a result of this model, it is able to fund about 90 percent of its own budget, receiving roughly one-tenth of income from philanthropic sources. For a nonprofit, that’s almost unheard of.

It’s all part of the overall philosophy, says Tollefson. “Part of what we’re trying to instill is that you have to become economically self-sufficient in your life.”

These students are doing just that and if you’re interested in seeing the results first-hand, there will be a public “Breaking Through” ceremony taking place on Tuesday, October 2, at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center. There, participants in the program will gives speeches and share their stories of transformation.


  • JT Sweeney

    Great story! Glad to see some local companies are supporting this