Holding onto local talent and creating the pipeline of career possibilities has sparked a new collaboration between a nonprofit college access program and a leading kitchen and bath company, right in the company’s backyard.
Launching this month, the Kohler Scholars program – a partnership between College Possible Milwaukee and Kohler Co. – will provide students the hands-on job exposure, networking connections, and a career pathway to a future they may not otherwise have considered.
“There’s a strong belief that if you’re not having the opportunity to see it, you can’t lean into what you can be,” says Kellie J. Sigh, executive director of College Possible Milwaukee.
“It could be a scholar sitting at one of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) we partner with who has a creative mind and may not know there’s a marketing position. Or (someone who has) a really firm grasp on math – a love for math –and not know there’s an opportunity to be an engineer or in actuary science or the nonprofit space. This really opens up opportunities that are available within a global corporation,” she explains.
Kohler Scholars want to encourage that career exploration throughout the college experience and offers scholarships to select students. Those chosen for the program will receive a $5,000 annual recurring scholarship, a paid internship at Kohler upon graduation, and an assigned Kohler executive to serve as a mentor throughout the student’s four years of college.
The goal is for the scholar to eventually join the company in a full-time role upon graduation.
Opening the Door to Opportunity
Over the past 16 years, College Possible has helped more than 4,000 students from eight Milwaukee high schools navigate the college admissions process. According to Sigh, their student populations are diverse and disadvantaged when it comes to income:
- Their families are 200% below the federal poverty income level,
- 94% are coming from families where they will be the first to attend college,
- 96% identify as a person of color.
In Milwaukee, the college bachelor’s degree graduate rate for a student from a limited income background is 11%. Sigh says that rate triples for scholars supported by College Possible.
Like other cities and companies around the country, the value of diversity and homegrown talent is being recognized. Sigh says it’s about more than checking a box or being able to simply add more people to a company’s headcount. It’s about adding value.
“Milwaukee is a diverse city yet a very segregated city unfortunately. Corporations are recognizing there’s so much value for them when they are able to diversify their employee groups,” she says. “It’s not only about ‘I’m able to change the complexion of my employee group” but also understanding when you bring people from various backgrounds it also does change the dynamic and conversations being had around the table.”
“You have diversity of thought. You have diversity in terms of create solutions, problem solving, and opportunities,” adds Sigh.
Enriching and Supporting Communities
“College Possible Milwaukee has proven to be successful in the positive and impactful change seen in its surrounding community. The opportunities this organization offers to young people truly do change the course of their lives and we are excited to be a part of that,” says Ginger King, vice president of human resources of Kohler Kitchen & Bath Group.
The Kohler Scholars program’s goal is to serve nearly 100 high school seniors and college students by 2024.
“We are dedicated to enriching and supporting communities, and a large part of that is to help strengthen the individuals within those communities,” says King. “These programs offer trainings and education, and they also offer young people the chance to own their future, to be invested in their own outcomes – this is crucial to the future growth of our communities and our company overall.”