In a previous semester at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), I was forced to withdraw from school due to hospitalizations because I have Sickle Cell Anemia, and that resulted in further financial stress. I found myself in a scary place: limited family support, working three minimum wage jobs, and just living to survive.

I took a class one semester during my gap, but made no real progress toward my degree because I didn’t have the money to go back to UIC. I was out of school, and that plagued my mind. The jobs I was working barely covered living expenses, so there wasn’t much hope of them funding my education or anything else that I would want out of life. I’d fallen into a Catch-22: I needed school to get a better job but needed a better job in order to afford school.

I stumbled across Year Up twice while looking for jobs. I applied because I had nothing else to lose, and I really wanted to see if I could earn an internship. Thankfully, I was accepted into the program.

At Year Up, I learned valuable hardware, programming, and software skills that were directly applicable to a career path in IT. Additionally, I learned the value of showing up on time, the importance of punctuality and how body language affects professional interactions. My training prepared me for an internship at SPR Consulting, where I was able to write programs and applications using SharePoint solutions and data. Over the course of my internship, I learned that it was okay not to know everything at once when approaching a new project or technology. I received two mentors and gained valuable experience in the technical consulting field.

Three months into my six-month internship, SPR offered me a job, which I happily accepted. Not only am I a full-time Consultant and SharePoint Developer, I’m also back at UIC, working toward finishing my degrees in Computer Science and Political Science.

Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that my life would have gotten any better if I hadn’t participated in Year Up. Year Up empowered me to further my career and gave me a chance to interact with people from different walks of life. My life right before starting the program was very isolating, and completing this year journey increased my confidence with both public speaking and social interaction. Year Up shapes us into young adults who can be professional, while still being our authentic selves with our own quirks. These aren’t easily teachable skills, but Year Up has created a community of support and belonging where people can thrive and grow.