What BridgeYear Has Been All About!


After working at BridgeYear for more than seven weeks, the biggest lesson I have learned about social justice work has been that everything, no matter how big or small, counts towards progress. Sometimes when people sign up for social justice work, they expect to have a tremendous impact within the first few days or weeks. The truth of the matter is that impact is built on years of dedicated and arduous work. One might not even get to see the true impact of their actions while doing social justice work, but all that matters is that every step is taken with a purpose. For me, social justice work relies on the belief that change will come eventually. It might take years and a lot of work, but it will come.

As an advisor, it always feel great to receive this type of message!

Since we’re on the subject of impact, I believe that through my work at BridgeYear, I have been able to pave the way for future teachers and students to engage in career exploration in a more meaningful way. I’ve created lesson plans and self-assessment activities designed to allow students to think of career exploration in a different way from what they are used to.

Back when I was in high school, all that mattered when it came to choosing a career was salaries. You didn’t have to love the field you were going for, as long as it paid the bills. With the self-assessment activities I created, I have tried to move away from that way of thinking and focus on individual interest and strengths when choosing a career.

I will say this though, I didn’t really think I would have so much influence on the core aspects of BridgeYear. I truly wish I had known how a start-up nonprofit organization works before beginning my internship at BridgeYear. I had no idea just how much my actions and decisions would affect the future of the organization. In reality that’s the beauty of a start-up; it changes and evolves every single day.

The one piece of advice I would give to anyone thinking of joining the BridgeYear team for the summer would be to be ready to organize your life. The fact that the interns at BridgeYear are not bound to a single project and collaboration is encouraged by the supervisors, keeps everyone on their toes at all times.

The BridgeYear team of advisors taking work on the go at a local coffee shop.

For a start-up, deadlines are crucial; there are many constant moving pieces that dictate the success of the organization. Moving from one project to another will also leave a lot of room for learning. This is another tip for any future BridgeYear interns: be ready and willing to learn. While the supervisors work closely with you to improve your professional skills, it is ultimately up to you to take that first step towards learning and applying that knowledge. Just remember to also have fun!

Post 4: Taking BridgeYear Lessons Back to Waltham Group


The summer internship at BridgeYear is a unique experience and quite different from what I had expected this internship would be like. One of the reasons why I decided to be a part of BridgeYear was because I wanted to improve my skills as an effective leader.

The 2017-2018 Symbiosis Coordinators during the Waltham Group celebration of service.

This upcoming year at Brandeis, I will be the senior coordinator of Symbiosis, a Waltham Group program. As exciting as that is, I know that in order to ensure the success of any Waltham Group program, a good deal of leadership is required from the coordinators. Symbiosis is fairly new in comparison to other programs, so it will need committed people to run it, now that all of the founding coordinators have graduated.

One of my close friends from Houston and Brandeis had worked as an intern for BridgeYear this past summer, and she told me that she was able to learn many new things during this internship. When I spoke to her, she mentioned that working at BridgeYear was a lot of work, but it was work with a purpose. The supervisors were always looking for ways to improve different aspects of the organization and its people.

After working six weeks with the BridgeYear team, I can say that I have not had two completely identical weeks. During the halfway point of the internship, every team member had the chance to evaluate and provide feedback for other interns, as well as the current supervisors. The entire exercise was very eye-opening to say the least.

BridgeYear interns enjoying some bonding time at Escape Hunt’s very own “Houston we have a problem” attraction!

I learned that while I am capable of taking charge of projects, I am often times more willing to support others and their projects. This is not necessarily a bad thing. All it means is that I need to be more comfortable making choices on my own without having someone else to direct me in the right direction.

I take feedback very seriously, so during the four weeks I have left at BridgeYear, I will try my best to become more independent when it comes to making choices. I will deliver finished projects with urgency, but more importantly, with a sense of pride. It’s not enough to deliver a good project if I feel like I could have spent more time on it. This lesson can be applied to my work as a Waltham Group coordinator as well.

Symbiosis prides itself on its commitment to the community of the city of Waltham and its environment. As a coordinator for Waltham group, it is my responsibility to make sure every volunteer and community partner feels like they are making an impact. This means that each of our events should be structured in a way that allows everyone to do their personal best. In Symbiosis’ fight for a brighter future for the environment, we cannot be satisfied with just good. We have to be, and will be, eco-wonderful!

Post 3: Understanding Change at BridgeYear


I’ll begin by giving a little reminder of what exactly is BridgeYear’s mission and its significance. BridgeYear’s mission is to provide under-represented students with clear pathways towards high-paying, high-growth jobs in the Houston area. Whether it is through local community colleges or field specific apprenticeship programs, BrirdgeYear ensures every student has a clear path they can follow. Since BridgeYear is a start-up, I learned very early on that while the organization is growing, its mission statement, programs, and team can change at any given point.

In reality, this means that every single team member has the power to make their mark along the way. My bosses understand this very well, which is why each project assigned to us, no matter how big or small, is truly intentional. Each project is not only meant to play a key role in the grand scheme of the organization’s development, but they are also designed to help everyone grow as professional individuals.

The Summer of 2018 team celebrating BridgeYear’s second birthday!

Every single intern has a specific goal for the summer that was determined by taking individual strengths and areas of growth into account. From social media management to curriculum development, each project is designed to play a part in developing the organization and the individual.

I am personally in charge of developing the pre- and post-curriculum of the student experience at BridgeYear. This means that I have to find ways to engage the students in career exploration before they receive personalized advising from the intern team. So far, my projects follow a pattern of draft, feedback, more drafts and feedback, and final product. This framework relies heavily on teamwork and the feedback I get from everyone around me.

Now, I am usually the type of person that works very hard on one project, gets it done, and moves on to the next thing right away. This is one of my possible areas of growth for this summer. My bosses have been able to design projects that will allow me to expand my comfort zone while they guide me throughout that process. However, one of the most important aspects of these projects is that I am not restricted to only work on curriculum building. I have also had a part on one of the social media projects so I truly get to experience all sort of things.

Teams that eat together, work well together!

As I pass the halfway point for this summer internship, I would like to think that I’ve grown a lot. I definitely feel that I have made an impact and will continue to make an impact on the future of BridgeYear. At the same time, it almost feels unbelievable that I’ve been working for five weeks already! I can’t wait to see what will happen in the five weeks to come.

Post 2: Connecting Knowledge with Action at BridgeYear



One of the biggest realizations I had during my time at Brandeis came while taking Professor Wallace’s class, Sociology of Race, Gender and Class.

The class used a variety of media to analyze how race, class and gender as axes of identity and inequality create, and even recreate, forms of domination and subordination in schools, labor markets, families, and the criminal justice system. It was in this class that I was able to learn about the term intersectionality.

As most of you probably know by now, intersectionality, in its most straightforward form, refers to the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. After quite some time of self-evaluation, I was able to own the word. Intersectionality is more than just a buzzword; it is a way of life, and one of the only things I can do is to accept it and help others realize the strength that comes from that word. Under-represented students currently facing the effects of their unique, personal intersectionalities need to understand that there are resources out there for them.

I don’t mean to sound preachy or anything like that; I know I am not the only one who has had this realization. However, it is important for me to provide under-represented students with the tools to succeed in our current society. I feel that I was very fortunate during my high school years to have been guided throughout the entire college enrollment process. I am also aware that not every student is presented with such an opportunity.

This is the reason why I believe BridgeYear’s work is truly important. At BridgeYear, rather than concentrate on the overly supported top 25% of students, we place our resources on the other 75% of students. These are the students that are often times forgotten because they do not take AP classes, perform the best on their tests, or participate in a number of clubs. Through personal one-on-one advising, we make sure our students understand the exact steps necessary in order to either enroll into community colleges or partake in apprenticeship programs.

Even though I have only been advising students for about a month now, I already feel like I am having an impact on them. A good number of our students have been very grateful for the tips and reminders they receive from the BridgeYear team of advisors. I am delighted to say that I feel as if I am walking the same steps my mentors took in order to guide me to where I am now. My only hope is that the students I am advising realize their potential and become the kind of young professionals our society truly needs.

Post 1: Building Paths with BridgeYear


Hello everyone! Considering this is my first post, I should probably introduce myself. My name is Allan Zelaya Mata, and I am a rising senior at Brandeis University studying Chemistry and Environmental Studies. For this summer, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the intern team at the non-profit organization by the name of BridgeYear. Now, I should mention that BridgeYear is a fairly new, yet tremendously impactful, organization located at the heart of Houston, Texas. Yes, Houston does have the Space Center and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, but it also has an overwhelming amount of opportunity youth.

This group of youth are usually people between 16 and 24 years old who are out of school and currently not working. BridgeYear’s mission is to engage this group with career exploration opportunities though hands-on experiences with high-paying, high-growth careers. BridgeYear sets itself apart from different career readiness programs in that it doesn’t promote the typical 4-year college/university route. BridgeYear provides high school students and recent high school graduates with clear pathways to local community colleges and vocational training programs. In order to start this organization, the founders had to reflect back on their years as college counselors; in doing so, they realized how the 2-year college education pathway was perceived as less prestigious than the 4-year college route. In response, BridgeYear truly seeks to encourage students to confidently pursue their goals, no matter what they might be.

By now you might be wondering, what does a Chemistry and Environmental Studies double major do at such an organization? Well first things first, BridgeYear consist of three main programs, Career Test Drives (CTDs), pathway mapping, and ongoing advising. My role at BridgeYear is closely related to the CTD’s, as well as, ongoing advising. However, my job as an intern is unlike anything I had expected it would be like.

Team building activity at Crazy Cat

Since BridgeYear is a start-up organization, there are a lot of moving parts, and I mean a lot. This translates to very different and unique work days. There’s been times during this past three weeks when I’ve spent most of the day outside of the office going to meetings with my bosses. It’s worth it to mention that getting to see how the founders of an organization present themselves and run their meetings is quite a unique experience.

Besides going to meetings and participating in team bonding activities, I am responsible for creating pre/post curriculum for the Career Test Drives. I have been tasked with finding ways of preparing students for the hands-on career-testing experience of the CTDs and ensure they learn something about themselves in the process. I am also responsible for creating user friendly college enrollment guides for the BridgeYear advisors to use when talking to their students.

In looking at what the rest of the summer will be like, I can’t say I know exactly what I will experience. A start-up is heavily reliant on adaptability and progress, so all I know is that I have to be ready for big things. After all, it’s not every day I get to hold a check for $26,000!

BridgeYear board members and interns receiving an extremely generous donation.

Allan Zelaya Mata ’19