THE LOOP — In what is being described as a first-of-its-kind initiative for the CTA, the transit agency and Chicago Public Schools are launching a new scholarship and mentoring program targeting low-income high school seniors interested in construction and engineering-related jobs.
The program, called the CTA Elevating Futures Scholarship Fund, will offer $250,000 in scholarship money to ten CPS high schoolers over the next four years. The scholarship will be offered to CPS high school seniors in STEM programs who want to pursue construction and engineering-related fields after college.
Students need a GPA of at least 3.0 and come from families with a median income of $40,000 or less to apply for the program.
The fund was created due to concern from the CTA about the lack of potential internship and job candidates coming from economically disadvantaged areas of Chicago, particularly in minority neighborhoods.
“The issue was there were not a lot of Black and Brown individuals in the STEM field who were applying for these opportunities,” said Chynna Hampton, the CTA’s senior project manager for workforce initiatives. “We want to narrow that gap.”
“The goal is for us to recruit these students and provide long-term employment and create a positive economic impact in the communities that we serve,” Hampton added.
The program was created as part of the $2.1 billion CTA Red and Purple Line Modernization project, the largest transit improvement job in the agency’s 70-plus year history launched late last year, which involves the rehabilitation of the Red Line between Belmont and Howard.
The contractor for the RPM project, Walsh-Fluor, is donating the $250,000 for the fund.
“We thought it was essential to make a commitment to investing in the communities that [the RPM] project is serving,” said Kweku Thompson, the diversity inclusion manager for Walsh-Fluor.
The CPS Chicago Scholars program will provide mentors through the recipient’s four years in college, including academic advisors and career coaches.
Additionally, the program will give its recipients the opportunity to get early notification of possible internship availabilities with the CTA or Walsh-Fluor.
“We want mentors to be with these students through the duration of this scholarship, to ensure that they do finish their degree and they are placed in jobs,” Hampton said. “The ultimate goal is for them to get a job after graduation with the CTA or one of our contractors, like Walsh-Fluor or F.H. Paschen,” Hampton said.
Walsh-Fluor will also provide job-shadowing opportunities on the RPM project for scholarship recipients.
“A lot of this is about exposure,” Thompson said. “This gives students a birds-eye view of companies that they may be working for in the future.”
Both the construction and engineering fields are dealing with a shrinking labor pool as baby boomers begin to retire. The construction industry will be particularly in need of qualified candidates, with up to 500,000 new construction jobs needed to be filled nationwide by 2026, according the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We need to actively promote these jobs to the communities that we service,” Thompson said.
“There’s a lot to say about people just not knowing these careers even exist. Given the amount of public investment dollars in construction projects in Chicago available over the next decade, there’s will be numerous jobs available for qualified candidates.”
Three students will be awarded the scholarships, worth up to $25,000 individually, in each of the first two years of the program. Two students will be awarded the scholarship in each of the last two years of the fund.
The scholarship will be officially announced at a news conference Monday and applications will be due on March 1, 2020. Scholarship recipients will be announced on April 15.
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