On the latest episode of Lessons Earned, Braven CEO Aimée Eubanks Davis discussed the effects of COVID-19 on underserved communities. Learn more about Braven’s work and explore how others are helping learners and workers during the pandemic by listening to Lessons Earned.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, health, economic, and educational inequities across America have been laid bare.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that black Americans make up nearly a third of coronavirus cases, even though they comprise only 13 percent of the country’s population. The latest Washington Post-Ipsos poll, as well as Strada Education Network’s own Public Viewpoint surveys, also make clear that black and Latino workers are disproportionately impacted by job losses, pay cuts, and reduced hours as the deadly virus forces people to shelter at home.

Aimée Eubanks Davis, founder and CEO of Braven—a Strada grantee that helps low-income students develop the skills and the relationships they need to get a good first job out of college—says low-income, first-generation, and minority students who often are underrepresented on campus and under-employed in their first jobs, also are bearing the brunt of the pandemic as their studies and lives are disrupted.

“This group of students, along with a bunch of other seniors, have worked so hard to get to this point, and they’ve earned the right to have a strong job,” Eubanks Davis says. “And there are going to be 500,000 low-income students graduating this May and June into one of the worst economies ever. There’s just a lot of anxiety around that.”

On the latest Lessons Earned podcast, Eubanks Davis sat down with Strada’s Ben Wildavsky and Andrew Hanson to talk about Braven’s response to the pandemic. The organization is connecting with students online and helping them to build not only their resumes and professional networks so they can launch solid careers after college, but also their contingency plans for dealing with workforce challenges in an uncertain future.

Braven, which Eubanks Davis founded in 2013, works with thousands of Pell Grant students at four campuses in New York, New Jersey, the San Francisco Bay area, and Braven’s hometown of Chicago. It partners with faculty to run a credit-bearing, entry-level course that teaches students everything from how to write a resume to how to build “social capital,” the professional and personal networks that students from higher-income, well-connected families often take for granted. Volunteers from area companies provide intensive coaching and build relationships with small groups of Braven students, giving them the connections to move immediately into “full-dollar” jobs after graduation and setting them on a trajectory toward higher earnings throughout their careers.

The results are impressive:

  • 50 percent of Braven students out-earn their parents within five semesters of entering the program.
  • 95 percent persist to earn their college degrees.
  • 70 percent join the workforce at full-dollar earnings within six months of graduation.
  • And, in stark contrast to their millennial peers, 75 percent report saving money in a savings account.

Now, Eubanks Davis says her organization is doubling down on efforts to support these students and many more, moving forward with plans to expand and creating a one-week “Braven Booster” course to help students and workers gain—or regain—a foothold in the workplace. Included in the booster, she says, are Braven’s existing modules for writing resumes and cover letters, and for building professional networks. It also includes a new module for creating what so many workers currently lack: a contingency plan in case they are laid off. Now, from its current enrollment of 2,400 students, Braven hopes the Booster can serve upwards of 20,000 students at a time.

“We are viewing it as our shield,” Eubanks Davis says. “Like Ford is building shields, and not building cars at the moment, for first-line responders. We are feeling like we should do something similar.”