When Seeing is Being

William Hardrick, Jr. understands the students of Riverview Gardens High School (RGHS) well – he’s walked in their shoes. Growing up in the Walnut Park neighborhood of North St. Louis, a “resource desert” like Riverview, Hardrick knows he has a calling for empowering youth to achieve better. He spent nine years as a prevention educator with Better Family Life, where he received a Champion for Youth award, before joining Little Bit as High School Program Manager in November 2020. He says he’s learned a lot in his new role about how best to communicate with young people during what can be both an exciting and confusing time.

“You have to approach each student differently to draw out what they really want for their life,” says Hardrick. “From there, it’s about linking their long-term goals with short-term actions and putting them with people that can offer the experiences they need.”

That’s the philosophy behind What’s Next programming at RGHS, a model we continue to build and refine and hope to eventually offer to other high schools. In February, close to 100 RGHS students participated in a virtual What’s Next Career Fair, having opportunity to chat with about 35 vendors in online “breakout rooms,” and on May 25, local employers were able to virtually interview students for summer and post-graduation positions during an Application Day. “Making these connections is a win-win for students and companies,” says Hardrick.

Aly Kowal, Director of Human Resources for Little Bit partner TierPoint, agrees. “Being the best in our industry starts with having the best talent representing our brand,” she says. “Exposing young people to the opportunities and relationships they can have with TierPoint is a first step in building the exceptional, inclusive workforce we want.”

Kowal invited four RGHS seniors to accompany her and several of her colleagues to the TEDx Bold + Brilliant Women’s Conference at America’s Center in late 2019 and has been thinking of ways to further engage with students. Her vision is to create a program with Little Bit for RGHS students that will offer a pathway to a position in TierPoint’s St. Louis Data Center after graduation. “We don’t require a college degree in our centers but are looking for people that can provide excellent customer service and are interested in growing into a technical career. We are willing to invest in their potential and lead them on a path to becoming system administrators and engineers. I think it’s a terrific option to consider.”

Hardrick is actively pursuing partnerships like these that will bring new ideas and opportunities to students, he says. With COVID restrictions lifting, he hopes in the next school year to offer companies the chance to conduct hands-on workshops with students and/or bring students to their facilities for tours. “Wherever I’ve gone with my work, the students I meet share so many similarities. The difference is in the resources and experiences available to them. Those are the doors we’re trying to open. You can’t be what you can’t see.”