Connecting tomorrow’s leaders with success

Wake up. Go to high school. Clock in at the sheet metal factory in the afternoon. Moonlight at the local skating rink on the weekend. A decade ago, Joni Oleson was getting a paycheck and her diploma, but she wasn’t sure what to do next – or how to get there.

Then in 2006, her senior year, Joni was selected for the Bank of America’s Student Leaders® program, an initiative that provides young people with employment and leadership skills. After spending her summer working at a local nonprofit in Jacksonville, Florida, Joni asked the bank program coordinator for help getting her first “real” job, knowing she would need full-time work to pay for a college diploma.

Through the Student Leaders® program, Bank of America has, for more than a decade, helped young people develop pathways for success by connecting them to skills, broader networks and experience needed to navigate the 21st century workforce. Each year, Bank of America connects 225 high school students from across the country to paid summer internships with local nonprofits, such as Boys and Girls Clubs of America or Communities in Schools, that are dedicated to strengthening their communities. Student Leaders is part of Bank of America’s broader $40 million commitment to connecting youth and young adults to education, training and jobs.

Through her experience and network, Joni eventually secured a position at the bank and was able to take advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement benefit, becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college. She is now a vice president of communications. “This program opened a door for me,” she now says. “It enabled me to use my passion and skills and transfer them to where I needed to be.”

Adds another Floridian 2017 Student Leader, De-Shaunah Dixon, from Boynton Beach: “As a young black woman with a Trinidadian accent, I had to overcome some obstacles, but I didn't let it hold me back. I appreciate the Student Leader program and took a lot from it. I want to be that person to offer back to others what I've received.”

The young people selected for the program, who are already leaders in their communities, gain workforce experience, leadership skills and valuable connections to a peer group of young change-makers, while local nonprofits benefit from the students’ fresh insight, energy and emerging leadership abilities.

A highlight of the Student Leader experience takes place each July in Washington, D.C., during the Student Leaders Summit, a week-long gathering where students from across the country discuss ways to build a more diverse and inclusive society and learn how they can become more engaged and effective citizens. Participants take part in a service learning project, meet with Members of Congress, learn about ways to tackle poverty, discuss pathways to leadership and participate in workshops to build better money habits.

2017 Student Leader Alexander Zhang said it was very meaningful to meet his fellow student leaders – all from different backgrounds, but each sharing a desire to strengthen their local communities.

“Being in San Diego, I feel sheltered from a lot of the problems others face, like I’m living in a bubble,” Zhang said. “I met people from other states who have a lot of different problems in their communities that I was not familiar with, things I’ve heard about but never known. To talk to someone who was familiar with those kinds of problems, that was really eye-opening.”

In July 2017, the summit included a discussion with Student Leader alumni, who reflected on the valuable lessons they learned from the program. “Always show up and do something,” said Michael Bervell, a 2014 Student Leaders program graduate and current student at Harvard University. “A lot of life isn’t fair. If you have the confidence to ask for what you desire, there’s going to be some way for the stars to align for you to end up where you want to be.”

Joni Oleson agreed. “You will be surprised where these connections pop up for you in the future. Take advantage of the networking opportunities and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Had I been afraid to ask for a job, I would be in a very different place today.”

Interested in becoming a Student Leader or in learning more about the program? Learn more on our Student Leaders page.


Open Location
Open How we're involved