TL; DR: The nonprofit Braven is working to foster a diverse and inclusive network of emerging leaders from underrepresented backgrounds. Students receive the tools they need to build valuable hard and soft skills through the hybrid online and in-person Braven Accelerator course. Braven’s annual jobs report, compiled using data from Braven graduates demonstrates what students can do when provided the opportunity to build connections and engage in career-building activities.
In his 1931 book “The Epic of America,” James Truslow Adams coined the phrase the American dream — or the notion that upward mobility is achievable regardless of social class or opportunity.
Now, 90 years later, one has to question the legitimacy of such a concept. According to the nonprofit Braven, a mere 30% of the 1.3 million low-income or first-generation college students who enroll in college each year graduate and either secure a strong job or start grad school. That equates to more than 900,000 students — and the latest, mid-pandemic numbers are likely much higher.
To keep the American dream alive and well, it seems clear we need to expand its reach. And that’s exactly what Braven is aiming to do. The nonprofit works to help underrepresented college students gain equal opportunities to transform their ambitions into prosperity and success.
“The mission of Braven is to empower promising students from humble beginnings,” said Kasia Kalata, Director of Communications and Marketing at Braven. “We help first-generation college students, students from low-income backgrounds, and students of color gain the skills, confidence, experiences, and networks necessary to launch into a career or graduate school. To date, we’ve served more than 3,300 students, and we’ve seen encouraging results.”
The Braven Accelerator arms students with hard and soft career skills, the opportunity to solve real-world problems, one-on-one mentorship, and valuable networking opportunities.
The 15-week course is facilitated by Leadership Coaches who volunteer to guide the next generation of leaders through the impactful experience. Whether they’re looking to break into tech with site-building skills or start a career in any other industry, Braven hopes to cultivate a diverse and growing group of talent to make for a stronger and more resilient American culture and economy.
A Woman-Founded Nonprofit Providing Supplementary Education
Braven was founded in 2013 by Aimée Eubanks Davis, who recognized the education-to-employment gap faced by underrepresented students.
“She was raised on Chicago’s South Side, and her family had experienced economic mobility,” Kasia said. “Through these personal experiences, she realized the inequities that exist in education and wanted to help address them. That led her to pay it forward: After college, she served as a Teach For America (TFA) Corps Member, and she taught sixth grade in pre-Katrina New Orleans.”
Kasia told us Aimée loved nurturing her bright students, and she promised them that through the gates of college would come opportunity.
“But while leading human assets at Teach For America, she was gut-punched when she realized that one of her favorite students wasn’t going to get over TFA’s selection bar,” Kasia said. “It wasn’t because she wouldn’t be a great teacher but because she lacked some of the soft skills she needed — like interview prep.”
Later, through a fellowship at Pahara, Aimée noticed that the problem was not isolated to TFA — instead, it was on the order of millions. She started Braven to help address such inequity.
“Braven helps promising young people on the path to the American dream,” Kasia said.
Building Crucial Networking Opportunities for Students
Braven piloted several successful programs in the K-12 and higher education spaces during its first few years as a nonprofit. After seeing promising results with college students, the team decided to focus entirely on higher education since no one else was.
Kasia, a first-generation college graduate herself, said she would have benefited greatly from a program like the Braven Accelerator.
“I love that students not only learn essential skills but put them into practice in a safe space,” she said. “Our Capstone Challenge, for example, is a consulting project where students solve a real-world problem for an employer. Some of our previous employer partners and sponsors include Panasonic, Gucci, and PwC. They pose a question to students and students help them address the issue.”
Another invaluable benefit Braven offers is access to abundant networking opportunities.
“According to LinkedIn, 85% of jobs are filled through networking,” Kasia said. “And networking is just one portion of the competencies that Braven teaches Fellows. Braven makes sure that students have access to professionals in their area, which often opens doors.”
Braven offers students mentorship through pairings with Leadership Coaches during the 15-week Braven Accelerator. “A mentor helps guide them throughout the 15-week course as they take on new skills and put them into practice,” Kasia said.
In addition, the nonprofit provides Post-Accelerator Fellows who are graduating or have recently graduated an opportunity to apply for the Professional Mentor (PM) Program. Accepted candidates receive one-on-one help for 15 weeks to navigate the job search process.
The Data Behind the Mission
Braven’s annual jobs report provides the data to show how the nonprofit is delivering on its promises.
“In the past year, 420 Braven Fellows graduated from college, and they’re outperforming their peers by 22 percentage points (58% versus 36%) in strong job attainment within six months of graduation,” Kasia told us.
As far as demographics go, Braven Fellows can be broken down as follows: 86% are people of color, 43% are students from low-income backgrounds, and 54% are first-generation college students.
The statistics in Braven’s annual jobs report also highlight a resurgence of the American dream. A whopping 53% of Braven graduates from 2018 through 2020 report out-earning their parents in their first job out of college.
“In comparison, the average American has a 50-50 shot of outearning their parents by age 30,” Kasia said. “That’s why it’s so important to land that strong first job.”
According to the report, the median salary range of the most recent Braven graduates is also higher than the average for all public college students.
“We define a strong first job as one that requires a bachelor’s degree, builds long-term wealth and health, and offers a combination of promotion pathways, employee benefits, and a market-competitive starting salary,” Kasia said.
Helping Students Turn Perceived Weaknesses into Strengths
Braven’s Founder and CEO Aimée was recently honored as part of the 1954 Project Luminary Awards, an event that showcases the outstanding work of Black leaders and their positive impact on education.
She also published an inspiring TED Talk on how to transform self-doubt into a superpower (check it out here — it’s super encouraging).
As for what’s next, Braven’s upcoming impact report will be released in September. Keep an eye out for the latest news on how the nonprofit is helping foster a diverse and inclusive network of emerging leaders from underrepresented backgrounds.