“Businesses have many open jobs for skills that you can’t fill today – [P-TECH] prepares the kids to be employable” – Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO According to the US Bureau of Labor statistics, there were 5.4 million job openings as of May 2015. P-TECH, or Pathways in Technology Early College High School, is one way that IBM is helping to address this skills gap while transforming vocational education and pioneering a new vision for college and career readiness. The program includes paid internships, and the IBM Center for Applied Insights (@IBMCAI) is fortunate to welcome P-TECH student Chigozie Okorie as an intern this summer.
“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential” – Winston Churchill This Churchill quote is one that resonates with Chigozie, a Brooklyn, NY native and 11th grader at P-TECH. In his own words, “continuous effort, trial and error, are the way to go; they are inevitable.” His strong suit has always been English and History, although he’s beginning to warm up to Mathematics. He hopes to become a screenwriter in TV/Media or pursue a career in software engineering, where he can build applications that can help people in small or big ways. Since joining the Center as an intern, he has enjoyed doing new things that have forced him out of his comfort zone and says “I know that leaving my comfort zone can enable new opportunities and advance my life. I feel as though my tenure at IBM this summer can accomplish that for me.”
Tell us a bit more about yourself – Who you are? And what do you do in your spare time? My name is Chigozie C. Okorie; the “C.” stands for my middle name, Chisom, or my nickname, Chuck. On most first encounters and name exchanges, a majority of those I meet can’t pronounce my name the same way I do. I always say “Chi-go-Z,” but the one I’m exchanging names with would most likely say “Jacuzzi?” It’s fine though because pronunciation errors lead to conversation, which I’m fond of. My name is of Nigerian descent and I enjoy the food that comes with the background. My recreational hobbies include eating and sleeping. Even though I like to sleep, when I am awake, I am somewhat productive – exercising, exploring a street I’ve never been to, reading through music blogs and forums, preparing for the next day, and watching Netflix.
Tell us about your journey as a P-TECH student – What led you to apply? How did you join? And how has the experience been for you? Initially, P-TECH was an afterthought. The year was 2012, and I had just graduated from the 8th grade. Prior to actually graduating, I took the New York Specialized High School Admission Test with hopes of gaining admission to Brooklyn Tech. And from what I remember, I was one point away from becoming a student at Brooklyn Tech. At that point, I had never heard of P-TECH and didn’t know that the school was technology-focused and offered students an opportunity to graduate from high school with an Associate’s Degree. Then I received a call from a friend who was attending the same high school fair during the summer of 2012, and he told me, “Get over here – I found this school that gives students a free Associates Degree!” And I was reeled in. Yet when filling out my high school application form, P-TECH still wasn’t my first choice. There was a bit of a mix-up, and I actually thought I would be attending a different school. But then my father made a call to P-TECH and found out I was accepted, and that’s when my journey began. Now I’ve just finished my junior year of high school and have already completed ten college classes.
What do you like most about being a P-TECH student? I most enjoy the people that I’ve had the opportunity to meet, the friends I’ve made and the teachers who are great mentors. I also know that being a P-TECH student was what gave me the opportunity to interview for a summer internship at IBM, and I’m looking forward to learning more this summer as a Center for Applied Insights intern.
What do you find most challenging about being a P-TECH student? I always try to be honest with myself and others, and I’d be lying if I said “nothing is challenging about being a student in high school.” It really varies by the day though – sometimes the commute, most times the workload, and there are days when my locker doesn’t open after I thought I put in the correct lock combination. So yeah, as a P-TECH student, the challenges I face aren’t far off from the challenges students at other schools face. But then again, I haven’t actually had a long enough tenure at any other high school to really back up that statement. As a P-TECH student I was required to take a Virtual Enterprise class. Part of the class requirement was to make a business presentation to a panel of judges. It was demanding and tiresome but also exciting, and after much preparation, we successfully completed the coursework.
What characteristics, skills or attitudes have set you apart and helped you be successful? I’ve never been the best at describing myself and my strengths to someone who doesn’t know me. After all, I’m still learning about myself every day. Luckily, and right on time for this Q and A, my colleagues and now co-workers were asked to describe me. I really liked what they had to say and thought it was accurate: “Friendly, funny, well spoken, great to talk to, and decent with technology.” This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard these characteristics used to describe me. As for my attitude, I like to laugh and smile a lot, so I think I’m easy-going.
Who has influenced you the most and why? My family, especially my parents; they practically molded my entire being. Thanks to them, I still say thank you when people hold the doors for me.
How and where do you find inspiration? At home, school, work and on the street during my daily commute. Just interacting and seeing other people pass by me, I’m inspired to do and try things. Also, the Internet. Just recently I saw my fellow IBMers drinking coffee and decided to give iced coffee a try for myself. On a more serious note, after seeing some of my classmates develop websites for various projects, I was inspired to design a website for my sister’s contracting company. The website I designed is still being used today.
What do you hope to learn and accomplish during your summer internship with IBM? Honestly, this is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this, so I really don’t know what to expect. I walk into my worksite at 63 Madison everyday wanting to learn something new and wanting to retain that very information. I feel that this experience will most definitely come in handy rather soon. I’ve always been told I was a strong writer. This position at the Center for Applied Insights could help me better my craft, improving the skills needed to interview people, conduct research on marketing ideals, or better understand important skill gaps in the workforce. I’m also hoping to gain a better sense of what exactly I want to do after high school.
What advice would you give other students and young people to help them be successful? Do one scary thing every day. What I mean is, leave your comfort zone and do something that could potentially benefit you. I’ve recently learned that’s the kind of advice IBM’s CEO has been passing on for years. According to Ginni Rometty, “Growth and comfort do not coexist.”
Tell us a fun fact that people would enjoy learning about you I’m a BIG fan of amusement parks. My favorite is Six Flags Great Adventure, and my favorite ride is Skull Mountain, which I’ve been on more than 20 times.
What’s next for you? I wish I knew. I can only be optimistic! I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I can only say what I wish for: hopefully success and opportunities…or eventually a permanent stay at the IBM Center for Applied Insights. My immediate hope is to successfully complete my final year at P-TECH and go earn a Bachelor’s Degree at a university on the east coast.
About P-TECH IBM’s Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) are innovative public schools spanning grades 9 to 14 that bring together the best elements of high school, college, and career. Within a six-year, structured, and integrated timeframe, students graduate with a no-cost associates degree in applied science, engineering, computers and related disciplines, along with the skills and knowledge they need to continue their studies or step seamlessly into well paying, high potential jobs in the information technology arena for multiple industries. This model was designed to be both widely replicable and sustainable as part of a national effort to reform career and technical education.
About the IBM Center for Applied Insights The IBM Center for Applied Insights introduces new ways of thinking, working and leading. Through evidence-based research, the Center arms leaders with pragmatic guidance and the case for change.
- Chigozie’s P-TECH profile
- Why IBM’s CEO is hiring Brooklyn teens (CNN Money video with Ginni Rometty interview)
- Business high school: Companies struggling to find talent are looking to teenagers (The Economist, July 2015)
- From high school calculus straight to a job at IBM: Meet the first graduates of P-TECH (Fast Company)
- P-TECH: Tackling youth unemployment one student at a time (Forbes, June 2015)
- IBM and P-TECH (IBM press kit)
- Other P-TECH posts on the IBMCAI blog
- P-TECH on Citizen IBM blog
- P-TECH New York