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Birmingham Students Make INROADS Through Paid Internship Program

Students, officials, executives gathered on Tuesday for the launch of the INROADS College Links collaboration with Birmingham Promise at sponsor PNC Bank’s tech hub in the city’s Southside neighborhood. (Ryan Michaels, For The Birmingham Times)

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Katrina “KC” Dada, currently a senior program manager for Ed Farm, a Birmingham technology education organization, was more than happy on Tuesday to share her experience with INROADS, a nonprofit committed to creating pathways to careers students across the United States.

Dada said she was introduced to the program while studying for a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at Tuskegee University.

Through INROADS, Dada said she began an internship at Alabama Power and worked her way up, before going on to the Birmingham Education Foundation and Amazon, before getting her now job at Ed Farm.

But it was INROADS, that gave her confidence, lifelong connections and a desire to give back to her community, she said.

On Tuesday, the INROADS College Links collaboration with Birmingham Promise to extend paid internship for Birmingham students was announced at sponsor PNC Bank’s tech hub in the city’s Southside neighborhood.

The collaboration aids Birmingham Promise, the city’s scholarships and jobs program; gives PNC access to Birmingham City Schools’ students for financial literacy and establishes a network of CEOs and executives who will provide students with mentoring and internship opportunities.

College Links is a college and career readiness program for high school students interested in all aspects of academia and introduces students to various STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) and business careers.

It consists of monthly, three-to-four-hour sessions that students attend, where they talk about all aspects of college and career planning. Topics include leadership development, communication and teamwork, as well as mental and emotional strength, among others.

“We talk about all the things that the guidance counselors talk about,” said Ken King, market director for Birmingham’s College Links program. “…We talk about all things you may hear from your parents. Just imagine guidance counselors and parents and mentors and big brothers and sisters and educators kind of wrapped up in one.”

Participating students will also develop the skills that can lead to paid corporate internships that will help find good jobs, King said. Graduation is not enough, he added.

“If you’ve ever gone to college, you want to know ‘How did so-and-so get that job?’ They had relationships, they had access, they had opportunity to actually work for organizations, and obviously, turn that into an opportunity,” King said.

In addition to the monthly sessions, from October through May and internships King will also introduce students to executives from different area corporations.

Forest Harper, president and CEO of Inroads, said the College Links program operates in 14 cities and the goal is to reach 25 by 2025. The organization has over 35,000 alumni including Jonathan Porter, senior vice president of customer operations at Alabama Power, who also chaired The World Games 2022 Birmingham Organizing Committee. Twins Shera Grant and Shanta Owens, both district court judges in Alabama, are also Inroads alumni.

The goal of a program like College Links, Harper said, is to put students on an “economic mobility track.”

“It’s [about] getting the economics right. If I can bring a W-2 in the house of a marginalized family, a single-parent family, any family that is just behind, we’ve won,” he said.