Bridging the Gap

Hundreds of applicants from around the world were nominated to be student ambassadors for Bridge to Employment, but only 13 were selected. Cedar Shoals High School juniors Aseel Mansour and Hadiza Sarr were two of them.

“I was really nervous for the interview. Also, I had no idea how competitive it was until there were hundreds of applicants and only 13 people were chosen,” Mansour said about her Zoom interview.

WORKING TOGETHER: Hadiza Sarr and other members attempt to complete a challenge. In Bridge to Employment, members do creative and hands-on activities during meetings. “We do a lot of hands-on and group activities where we have to complete a task and be creative,” Sarr said. Photo provided by Hadiza Sarr.

Bridge to Employment seeks to help 14-18 year old students from disadvantaged communities excel academically and elevate career aspirations. The program’s goals include increasing the number of students who enroll in higher education and the number of students interested in STEM careers through academic enrichment activities, career readiness, exploration opportunities and higher education preparation.

As student ambassadors, Mansour and Sarr are a part of the BTE management team for Athens, attending local meetings and providing input on how to improve the BTE experience for other students. As student ambassadors, Mansour and Sarr attended the annual three day Johnson & Johnson Alliance Building & Training Session (ABTS) by Zoom at the end of September.

At ABTS, the student ambassadors attended lessons, listened to speakers and had a live fishbowl discussion. They also completed a project where groups completed a recruitment video to earn a virtual communication badge.

These projects entailed mastering four competencies: virtual platforms, incorporating diverse perspectives, active listening and telling a story to express ideas. When telling a story to express ideas, everyone told a story that was dear to their heart.

“It was just crazy hearing what some people have gone through and just seeing what people’s interests are in the world and what injustices they want to reform or what adversities they’ve gone through and overcome in their life,” Mansour said.

Tim Johnson, one of the Athens BTE site coordinators, said that being student ambassadors was a beneficial experience for Mansour and Sarr because they can provide additional benefit to their peers at Cedar through leadership. 

“They are great leaders for the school, this community and the project,” Johnson said.

Mansour and Sarr both said that BTE has been a very positive experience for them. Sarr says she receives plenty of support.

“It feels like I have people that I can reach out to if I need help. I’m happy that there’s people like that, who are willing to be there for high school students,” Sarr said.

During ABTS, Mansour and Sarr interacted with international students from countries as far as the UK, Ireland, South Africa, and Sweden. Mansour says the experience has made her more open minded.

“It’s made me realize that I’m not alone, and people in other countries still go through the same things that I go through,” Mansour said.

Cedar Shoals BTE Coordinator Valencia Thornton says that Mansour and Sarr have always shown great leadership, teamwork and communication skills. 

I think it’s just going to make them better leaders, better listeners and better people to be in charge,” Thornton said.

A big part of BTE is supporting and motivating its students, and both Mansour and Sarr said that BTE has made them more motivated. 

“It’s seeing our accomplishments being featured in so many different platforms, because that has just made me feel like, girl, you can do this,” Sarr said.

Melany Mathis

Senior Melany Mathis is the Viewpoints Editor for BluePrints Magazine. Mathis won first place for the opinion piece portion of SIPA’s 2021 Best Writing Contest. She is interested in sports medicine and physical therapy as potential careers. Some of her interests and hobbies include listening to music and watching sports. This year, Mathis hopes to step outside of her comfort zone and write informational stories that shed light on interesting subjects.