Year Up Arizona students at the East Valley campus work together on a class project. Year Up Arizona opened a Mesa campus in September with 26 students through a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University. PROVIDED BY YEAR UP ARIZONA

The program started in Phoenix five years ago at GateWay Community College’s Central City campus, and has since served over 900 young adults.

After graduating from an Avondale high school, Daniela Acosta wanted to go to college but didn’t have the financial means.

She heard about the year-long Year Up Arizona program through her mother, applied and was accepted into the full-time, national nonprofit program in August 2016.

Acosta spent six months learning technical, social and communication skills to prepare her for the workforce, and then learned even more real-world skills through a six-month internship with American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP).

On the last day of her full-time internship and right before she graduated from the program in June 2017, the now 21-year-old was offered a full-time job as a junior information security analyst in American Express’ Phoenix office.

She continues working at American Express while receiving tuition help and working a flexible schedule so she can pursue a college degree at the same time.

“Year Up has definitely helped transform my life,” said Acosta, who still lives in Avondale. “I wouldn’t be as successful as I was today without Year Up and American Express, especially since I can continue pursuing my dream of a college degree. I would recommend it for everyone who is around my age and wants to take their career to the next step.”

Daniela Acosta is a junior information security analyst at American Express in Phoenix. She got the job after an internship and career training through the Year Up Arizona program. AMERICAN EXPRESS

Acosta works on user-interface/user-experience design, along with graphic design, on her American Express team, and plans to pursue a cybersecurity degree possibly at the University of Arizona’s Phoenix campus.

“Working at American Express has offered me the opportunity to see what I’m interested in,” she said. “Since I started full time the job has been an excellent experience.”

Year Up Inc., now offered in 26 cities, started in Boston almost 20 years ago. The goal of the program is to help young adults move from minimum wage to meaningful careers in one year.

In Phoenix, the program began five years ago at GateWay Community College’s Central City campus, and has served over 900 young adults. In January, 91% of the graduating students are working or in school full time after completing the program, said Kim Owens, Year Up Arizona’s founding executive director.

“Our students are looking for an alternative pathway to a career,” said Owens, who can serve 240 students a year in the Phoenix program. “These students have the drive but lack the access to education or the opportunity. Year Up bridges that gap.”

Kim Owens is Year Up Arizona’s founding executive director. YEAR UP ARIZONA

Year Up Arizona opened a Mesa campus in September with 26 students through a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University. The pilot competency-based learning hybrid model allows students to earn more college credit since they can set their own pace, Owens said.

“This gave us a great opportunity to pilot a new model while expanding in the East Valley,” said Owens, adding that the Mesa program has a capacity for 80 students.

The program wants to expand into the West Valley and is in search of a location and a partnership, she said.

For internships, Year Up Arizona also partners with Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), JPMorgan Chase Bank (NYSE: JPM), GoDaddy Inc. (NYSE: GDDY) and Nationwide Insurance. Nationally, Year Up partners with Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Paypal Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq: PYPL), Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC), Inc. (NYSE: CRM) and LinkedIn Corp..

The program is open to young adults who are 18-24, have a high school diploma or equivalent, are eligible to work in the U.S. Ninety percent or more of students accepted qualify for federal financial aid, Owens said.

Students leave the social enterprise program with up to 31 college credits. Most are offered middle-skills jobs earning at least $35,000 a year, she said.

While the program is free for students, besides some college fees, employers pay Year Up for the interns, who can earn up to $600 a month as an education stipend, Owens said.

American Express has hosted over 400 Year Up interns and hired about 180 as full-time employees since it started working with the nonprofit in 2007, said David Woody, a senior vice president for American Express in Phoenix.

David Woody is a senior vice president for American Express in Phoenix. AMERICAN EXPRESS

“As we’ve worked with the interns and moved on to hire them we’ve found them focused, dedicated and loyal,” Woody said. “They’re very well prepared to work with us through the Year Up program. They’ve provided great entry-level talent for us.”

American Express provides student internships and jobs in technology, including Java programming, cybersecurity and tech operations, as well as the business side, from business operations, project management and banking and compliance, he said.

“We typically try to give them offers if they are a great fit after the internship and as they graduate,” Woody said. “This fits in so well with our company culture. It’s a great opportunity, partnership and talent source.”

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