USF People Make the Most of USF Connections

Alumna helps other first-generation college students gain work experience

By Annie Breen, USF News Posted Wed, 04/07/2021 - 12:41

Kayla Gonzalez knows the power of the USF network. Jennifer Salerno embodies it.

In the past three years, Gonzalez ’21 interned with two San Francisco political campaigns and for then-U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, all thanks to USF’s partnership with the San Francisco YMCA and its Empowerment to Employment (E2E) program.

The knowledge, experience, and connections she gained will set her up for a career, Gonzalez said.

E2E is run by Jennifer Salerno ’05, MA ’16, director of youth workforce development at the San Francisco YMCA. Salerno hires USF students who are first in their families to attend college.

“I am a first-generation high school and college student,” Salerno said. “I chose to attend USF not once but twice because I believe in the social justice mission. This mission has informed the work that I do and the programs I have created. I understand many of the challenges our first-generation students face, which is why I am so proud of this program.”

E2E offers paid professional development training, followed by a paid 300-hour internship.

Gonzalez, a critical diversity studies major, joined E2E as a member of USF’s Muscat Scholars program (MSP), which prepares first-generation college students to succeed at USF. She found out about E2E through MSP, which offers job training and announcements.

That’s the kind of connection that matters, said Charlene Lobo Soriano, MSP program director. “The partnership between E2E and MSP is the warm hand-off that makes a difference in the lives of students,” she said. “Being able to refer students directly to E2E gives them increased confidence in the world of work and ultimately in themselves.”

Gonzalez knows firsthand how powerful that confidence is. Because of the networking and professional skills she learned at E2E, she has now landed a role as a social media marketing intern for TurnUp, a nonprofit that supports youth activism.

“E2E gave me the tools to be able to develop myself professionally, get my foot in the door, and start working towards my career interests in community organizing, education reform, and grassroots activist work,” Gonzalez said.