The Obama Foundation recently announced its 2019 class of fellows to solve some of the most pressing issues the world faces today.
The second-ever class of Obama Fellows includes 20 civic innovators from across the world, including one Chicago local.
Aimee Eubanks Davis was tapped for the two-year program to continue the work of Braven, a Chicago-based nonprofit she founded in 2013. The organization works to ensure underrepresented college students land a strong first job after graduation.
Davis stops by the Morning Shift to talk about how she started Braven and what she hopes to accomplish through the Obama Foundation Fellowship.
How did you react when you found out you were named an Obama Fellow?
Aimee Eubanks Davis: I was shocked, humbled, just couldn’t really believe it. I was just overjoyed to have the honor and the recognition.
Jenn White: And you’re the only Chicagoan this year.
Davis: I am, I did not realize that until it was pointed out to me. It’s extra special. Turns out I grew up blocks away from Mrs. Obama.
On closing the college-to-career gap among underrepresented students
Davis: We’re really focused on how to help young people who are first in their family to go to college and on the PELL grant, meaning that their families are earning $50,000 or less when they’re taking that leap into college to really try to be on track to the "American dream."
And we partner with higher ed institutions like National Louis University here in the city to make sure that students have the skills, the mindsets and the networks that they actually need to come out of college strong and really be on the path to economic mobility.
The challenges underrepresented students face in landing their first job
Davis: I really come at this as a former sixth grade teacher and a talent nerd. I ran human capital at Teach For America, a very large-scale education nonprofit, and basically had this interesting collision where all of a sudden some of my former students were coming out of college and trying to get their strong first jobs and they were really struggling. And I was just so struck.
And basically one of the things that I realized was that they didn’t have the skills, the networks and the mindsets that other young people in higher-income communities honestly get from their kitchen tables and their living rooms, from their families and their friendship groups of their families. And it was just so unfair because what I started to realize was, sure, they needed the skills. Sure, they needed the mindsets. But the networks were not within their reach and that just seems so deeply unfair…
The model Braven uses to support students
Davis: I am just so privileged to work with some of the most innovative universities in this country. What they have said is, ‘We are going to allow this to be a course and we are going to partner with you to actually run a course for students who are sophomores or transfer juniors from community college.”
And the course is going to function in two ways. One is actually online… but then, instead of going to a lecture hall with 100 people or 500 people, they’re going to meet in a small cohort of 5 to 8 and be met by a professional in the workforce … who’s going to coach them in the applied experience.
On growing up in the South Side of Chicago
Davis: I was born in Englewood and spent a lot of my childhood in South Shore before going to high school in the southern suburbs … and basically, what I saw was that my parents had made an economic purchase of a building that was in a very depressed neighborhood at the time that they bought it. And over the course of 40 years, just watching the economic opportunities really open up in a different way for my siblings and myself and realizing that we had been fortunate and it wasn’t that we were more talented than anyone else who we were growing up around … and so I think for me, as I continued to go off in the world, I just realized I needed to pay it forward.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.
GUEST: Aimee Eubanks Davis, CEO and founder of Braven
LEARN MORE: New group of Obama Fellows includes local woman who works to close college-to-job gap (Chicago Tribune 4/30/19)