Art of the possible: FedEx empowers economic mobility for students

According to the U.S Census Bureau, an estimated 3.3 million people have been driven to poverty since the pandemic began. Low-income families—who were already struggling pre-pandemic—endured increased crises, including a mass disruption in education. Breaking the poverty cycle in the U.S. is a complex mission, but research shows that education is the key to helping young people obtain good jobs and maintain stable, productive lives not just for themselves, but for future generations.

With accessible, high-quality educational programs needed now more than ever, FedEx has stepped in to support educational organizations in several markets with the aid of its Community Engagement Councils. These Councils—comprised of team member volunteers— have worked for more than ten years with local nonprofits to define and meet needs in their communities, including connecting kids with career resources that can support them throughout their lives.

Through FedEx Cares 50 by 50 – the company’s journey to positively impact 50 million people by its 50th anniversary in 2023 —FedEx is dedicated to furthering education and opportunities for communities across the country. Since 2020, FedEx has helped more than 5,000 individuals affected by the pandemic across three critical cities explore career opportunities, flex their strengths and talents, and prepare for the future. 

Connecting New Yorkers with unconventional career paths  

When the 2020 school year ended, 86% of families in Urban Assembly School for Global Commerce (UASGC)’s school community were living at or below the poverty line, grappling with food insecurity, underfunded social programs, and other lockdown-related challenges. Located in NYC’s Harlem neighborhood, UASGC is a mobility-focused high school specializing in supply chain management and freight logistics. UASGC Principal Roony Vizcaino knew that for his 190 students, figuring out what to do after graduating – while juggling financial strain and other pandemic pressures – would prove difficult.  

“The pandemic brought a lot of social-emotional strain on our entire student body,” Vizcaino said. “Teaching them effectively now means addressing their unique needs – including acknowledging that postsecondary success doesn’t only mean going to college.”

To help expose these students to greater career opportunities, Vizcaino collaborated with Senior Supply Chain Project Manager Silver Mack Britton, member of the New York and New Jersey Community Engagement Council. Together in October 2021, they hosted a Student Career Day geared toward seniors and former UASGC graduates. FedEx brought leadership from across its FedEx Express and FedEx Ground operating companies onsite to speak with students about job openings and career advancement opportunities with the company.

“We saw fantastic reception from the students,” Vizcaino remarked. “They spoke with people who looked like them: people who started at ground level and worked their way up. Before, when students thought of FedEx, they thought of trucks and deliveries. Now, they think of working around the world, getting to travel, putting their skillsets to use.”

Beyond the career day, FedEx and UASGC are currently developing a student mentorship program, pairing students with FedEx representatives who can guide them through some of the most exciting and hopeful transitions of their academic lives.

Though they live, work, and study in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in NYC, these 190 students at UASGC are looking to the future with confidence.

On the Ground Mentorship in Houston

In Houston Independent School District (HISD), one of the most diverse school districts in the country, financial resources are often strapped. Designated as a Title X area by the federal government, a disproportionate number of families are not only low-income, but many students live in shelters.

Erika Tolar, a Worldwide Account Manager who leads the FedEx community council in Houston, first engaged HISD leadership through what she calls an “art of the possible” conversation back in 2016: if high school leaders could provide for any student need, what would it be? The resounding answers were job opportunities and career education by way of mentorship and funding.

“Representation is key: students in Houston need to see people who came from similar backgrounds and are now high-achieving and set up for success,” Najah Callander, Executive Director, Family and Community Engagement said.

In collaboration with HISD school leadership and a group of FedEx volunteers, Tolar jumpstarted the Let’s Go See Program, an initiative that will allow students in the district to tour local FedEx facilities and speak with team members about a wide range of career opportunities. The hope, Tolar explains, is for students to identify connections between what happens in a business with what they’re learning in the classroom. The program will be fully launched at the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

“We wanted to demystify the workplace, especially for high-risk students, showing them how they can be a part of it,” Tolar said.

The program was inspired by a tour Tolar and HISD led before the pandemic, during which 250 students were able to see up close how classwork like fractions, decimals, biology, and earth science inform business activities like pricing, weighing boxes, and even calculating carbon reduction measures.

Now, Tolar and Callander plan to bring FedEx team members from across the organizations into district classrooms to answer students’ questions and talk about career pathing. Simultaneously, through the FedEx Cares Purple Tote Bag Program, team members have collected and donated school supplies for more than 5,000 students, in addition to grants that will allow the Let’s Go See Program to thrive.

“Something I’ve always believed in is service over self,” Tolar remarked. “At FedEx, I can see the impact our service has not only on the communities we’re serving, but on the employees. The FedEx Community Engagement Council allows people to step out of themselves and give back.”

Internships Elevate Los Angeles Students

Los Angeles is one of the most populous cities in the U.S., but it’s also home to millions of impoverished families and students in underserved communities. EXP is one local organization that is working to close the equity gap by introducing students to in-demand careers in growing industries in their own backyard. Every school year, more than 6,300 students have access to EXP’s highly personalized career-based education programs, including career discovery events and a summer internship program. EXP’s programs elevate high school students to become competitive candidates in some of the most rewarding career fields including logistics, goods transportation, and supply chain. EXP has continued to serve students successfully throughout the pandemic, coordinating more than 100 virtual and hybrid internships over the summer of 2021.

“Our goal is to raise awareness and open eyes, giving our students a taste of something bigger than what's in front of them,” Amy Grat, EXP’s CEO said. “Specifically, we highlight the industries that are right in their backyard—including FedEx.”

Jason Blickhan, Director in Sales and a member of the L.A. Community Engagement Council, has partnered with Grat and her team for several years, offering students networking connections, mentorship opportunities, experiential and onsite learning, and accessibility to resources outside those typically offered by their schools at the Southern California FedEx facility.

“We’re fortunate to have a large employee base here— 25,000 employees—which gives us an immeasurable amount of energy to tap into organizations like EXP,” Blickhan remarked. “Service is embedded in our culture. No one even blinks an eye when a colleague takes time away from work to offer support.”

Blickhan said he’s already witnessed the collective boost of self-confidence brought about by the programming EXP and FedEx created for these students, particularly in alumni events. The numbers corroborate his experience: EXP interns have a 97% high school graduation rate.

“My favorite aspect of this work is seeing how students turn adversity into opportunity,” he remarked. “Those real-life connections get the next generation excited. They ask lots of questions – and those questions are the first spark of future success.”