Learning the Skills to Succeed Beyond the Classroom

By Selah Bah
Jun 26, 2020 12:15 PM ET
Blog

As a 17-year-old from Brooklyn, NY, I’m not letting anything damper my ambition—not even a global pandemic.

This year, I’m graduating from the Pathways to Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) school in Brooklyn with both my high school diploma and associate’s degree in computer systems technology. Though students can take up to six years to complete the P-TECH program, I completed it in four years, which makes me proud.

In my last semester of school, when classes went virtual, I managed to stay busy, using the extra time to achieve digital badges in topics like data science and professional skills via IBM’s Open P-TECH platform.

And despite not having a traditional graduation ceremony this year, I’m looking forward to the first-ever virtual graduation celebration for all U.S. P-TECH graduates from IBM affiliated schools. I will be one of 137 graduating P-TECH students from six IBM-affiliated schools in other cities like Chicago, Baltimore and elsewhere. It’s amazing to think about how those six schools are only a small part of the education and career-readiness model, with 220 schools in 24 countries. And to think that my school was the first one to be established!

When I first started at P-TECH, I only had a basic understanding of coding. Through rigorous classwork and extracurricular programs like Black Girls Code after school and during the summer, I found myself able to code in multiple languages including Python and HTML, and enjoy exploring robotics and building circuits. My favorite part was our field trips with fellow P-TECH classmates, like a Girls’ Hackathon and a 48×48 event, where I worked alongside IBM employee volunteers to build 48 websites for various nonprofit organizations in 48 hours.

Because P-TECH is all about being well-rounded, I also volunteered to help run student mentoring events and as an IBM Student Panelist during events where visitors learn about the P-TECH program, and served as treasurer for the school’s student government.

My appreciation for P-TECH goes beyond the hard skills I’ve acquired in the classroom. I realize succeeding in the workplace requires soft professional skills—like how to dress, collaborate, think critically but constructively, conduct ourselves maturely, or prepare a resume. That’s why P-TECH programs in each school emphasize development of these interpersonal skills, something I learned first-hand while interning at IBM in the market development and insights team. The internship was my favorite part of the P-TECH experience because I was introduced to the world of business consulting and marketing.

And because of this real life work experience, I am headed to Baruch College in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in digital marketing. And maybe one day, I’ll eventually go on to get my MBA, too.

The pandemic forced many people to grow up quickly. But if you were a P-TECH student, things already got real years ago, and that’s why my classmates and I feel ready to tackle whatever the future holds.