Growing up in a first generation family meant that my parents were not able to give my siblings and me advice on what kinds of colleges or careers to look into. Throughout the summer after I had barely finished high school, I looked for a job. I really wanted to help financially because my father was paying all the bills himself, but I was unable to find work.

At an open house, I learned that Year Up teaches students hard skills and, later on, practice in the real work force—an opportunity to enter corporate America. I really wanted to make something of myself and I knew that the program would help build my professional persona, so I applied right away.

During the classes, I learned punctuality, professionalism, attire, and I grew more comfortable with speaking in front of people. It felt a bit like a grain of sand that makes an oyster uncomfortable until it is transformed into a pearl. Those first five months were difficult at first, but necessary for success. My biggest challenge after that was passing the final exam. I would stay after school to review, ask questions of my mentor and instructors, and use study groups during the weekend before the final. I actually did well, and earned my internship at JP Morgan Chase. I felt excited that I could achieve anything if I put my mind to it.

As a bank teller, I was able to develop communication and professional skills. I was surprised at how banking is not as easy as it looks. You have to keep a smile, run a transaction, have a conversation with the customer and then balance at the end of the day. It was difficult for me in the beginning but, after practice, I was able to understand the needs of customers and feel more comfortable around them.

My hard work paid off — I got a job offer at Chase and was able to go to school full time. Without Year Up, I would still have been struggling to help my family financially and going to school without a set career path. The program has helped me outline my future goals. Now I am completing my associate’s degree in liberal arts at Harold Washington College and planning to transfer to the University of Illinois at Chicago to major in Computer Science.

I like to spread the word to friends and family members about Year Up; in fact, I encouraged my brother to apply. I am also a tutor for students in the program who need more help. People should know who urban young adults are: hard-working, dedicated, determined, passionate, and unique individuals striving to learn.