Propel America Mon, 04 Jan 2021 15:28:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Learning on the Job at Cooper University Hospital and MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper Mon, 04 Jan 2021 15:21:11 +0000

Learning on the Job at Cooper University Hospital and MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper

By Jordi Torres, Propel fellow, New Jersey

This piece was originally published on

As a certified medical assistant at Cooper Hospital in the Roberts Pavilion and MD Anderson Cancer Center, I help patients in their battle against cancer. The staff here never let a patient feel they are fighting alone.

As a medical assistant, I do key tasks like taking vital signs and measuring blood sugar. It is my job to make the patient as comfortable as they can be during their stay in the hospital. Because I am bilingual and speak both English and Spanish, I play another key role, too: I can help informally translate for patients. For specific medical issues, I leave it to professional translators, but where I can help with everyday communication, I can. I am so proud to do this. The language barrier is a big problem and the patients have told me that they hate the translator phones. When they need me, I’m there, and I will tell the nurse or doctor right away what they are saying.

I began working here as part of my externship with Propel America. I got connected to Propel my senior year at Camden Academy Charter High School. I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field for my career, but I didn’t know exactly what it would be. Propel was offered as a class for seniors that would lead into training programs and then job interviews for certain roles — including being a certified medical assistant. I decided this would be my starting point in the medical field.

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Propel America is Like Family Tue, 22 Sep 2020 14:47:52 +0000

Propel America is Like Family

by Taryn Fletcher, Ed.D, Executive Director, Propel America New Jersey

This piece was originally published on

When I left high school, all I wanted to do was “start my life.” I liked the idea of independence and getting into a career early. I was eager to fulfill my goals.

A lot of our Propel fellows are like this, too. I see that part of myself in them. I see the eagerness I felt, the determination. I remember feeling that excited and hopeful about my future. The ambition to just go begin knocking down your goals. I completely get why they want to start now.

To keep reading go to

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What Being a Waitress Taught Me About Helping Lead Propel America Tue, 22 Sep 2020 14:44:50 +0000

What Being a Waitress Taught Me About Helping Lead Propel America

By Erin Bendily, Ph.D., Executive Director, Propel America Louisiana

This piece was originally published on

I began working for Propel America this winter. I was excited to help young people make the journey from high school to a well-paying job — with all the opportunities that come with that.

This summer, I have loved getting to know Propel’s “fellows,” the young people we support as they train in exciting fields and eventually begin their jobs. In Louisiana, they can train to be patient care technicians, automotive mechanics, pipe fitter helpers, manufacturers, certified nursing assistants, and sterile processing technicians.

Their experiences have often reminded me of just how much young people learn in their first jobs — good and bad — and how my own first job taught me some important lessons.

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Our Statement on Race & Equity Fri, 17 Jul 2020 17:34:04 +0000

There is undeniable, systemic racism, and bias in the United States that permeates policing, the justice system, education, employment, healthcare, housing, and beyond. Our country is desperate not just for an acknowledgment of these inequities but an end to them. We need atonement, healing, and transformation. Propel America was born out of the urgent need to respond to such inequities, and we are as determined as ever. 

At Propel America, we focus on ensuring all young adults can attain economic prosperity. This mission in itself requires confronting and dismantling the structures of bias and racism that afford privilege to some and injustice to others. We recognize that our country’s K-12, higher education, and employment systems have failed to support young adults of color. Propel’s model strives to work against this reality. In order to advance equity and inclusion, Propel creates systems-level solutions by connecting employers’ needs into and across high schools and training organizations serving students in low-income communities across the country. We empower young adults from low income backgrounds with the skills, credentials, experiences, and professional social networks they need to attain a job that can help lead to upward economic mobility.

Propel is committed to set policies and engage in practices that are rooted in our aims of equity and diversity.  We do not accept the status quo. Instead, we embrace the responsibility of building a better future for young adults across the country by ensuring Propel fellows achieve economic self-sufficiency, which we believe can enable a choice-filled life. And through a supportive network of Propel partners, staff, coaches, peers, and alumni, we will stand with our fellows in our collective pursuit of social justice. 

Propel recognizes that our broader systems and structures must fundamentally change to advance racial equity. This will require us to remain open, truly listen, continually learn, engage in deep reflection and bold, courageous action–especially by those afforded privilege because of their race and background. The consequences of inaction and willful ignorance will only serve to ossify present-day inequities.

As a Propel team, and as people who care about our country, we stand firm, declaring an unwavering commitment to fight racism and advance racial equity. The Propel vision is for our next generation of youth and communities of color to experience an America free from prejudice and bias, and with equal opportunity to live the American Dream. Propel America believes that Black lives matter. And we stand in solidarity with Black and Brown people across the country in the ongoing quest for justice, equity, and prosperity.

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“Our Kids Desperately Need It”: What Propel America Has Meant to Me and My Students Fri, 08 May 2020 14:09:18 +0000

“Our Kids Desperately Need It”:

What Propel America Has Meant to Me and My Students

By David McKee, Dean of Students at Camden High School and Propel Boot Camp Instructor

I grew up in Camden and I am the Dean of Students at Camden High School today. I know that our children possess all the skills, talent, and intelligence to achieve whatever they set their minds to. I also know firsthand the challenges and obstacles they face on a daily basis, with many dealing with poverty, violence, drugs, and incarceration. My students have great potential; all they lack are exposure and opportunities. That’s one of the reasons I decided to get into education in the first place. I wanted to spend my professional career guiding our children and exposing them to opportunities.

So when my former superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard, contacted me about a program he had started that aimed to provide students with both exposure and opportunities, I was very interested. It was called Propel America, and he explained that it would provide a pathway for young adults to train for and enter good jobs after high school, all without debt. He asked me to lead a “boot camp” that would use Propel’s curriculum to prepare students for this. I would help them identify their career goals, learn crucial professional skills, and apply to training and certification programs. Once in training, they would receive a paid stipend to attend classes, and then Propel would connect them with employers for interviews. Though Propel’s class for high school seniors now provides students with multiple career options, our bootcamp would focus on the Certified Medical Assistant pathway in particular.

I decided that providing my students with this opportunity was something I could not pass up. We launched the boot camp after graduation, in August with, 14 students. They came to the classroom with different experiences. One student was in our top ten academically at Camden High, but was working a temporary job, with no plans for higher education. Another student possessed the necessary skills and abilities to thrive in the medical field, but hadn’t yet taken the steps he needed to take to get there. I was so happy to have them both enrolled in the program.

As the boot camp got underway, I saw my students grow daily. The group had started out shy and uncertain of what the future would bring, but quickly transformed into a confident bunch of young men and women anxious to start a career pathway that would sustain them and their families. Many started to express the additional steps they were going to take to further their education and career beyond roles as medical assistants.

What stood out to me most, however, was getting to know the students as individuals. There was a young lady who would show up to class each day before anyone else, including myself. She shared with me that she was experiencing homelessness. Even with all she was going through, she still was able to focus on the opportunity ahead of her. She knew it would lead to her becoming self-sufficient. Her situation was difficult, but unfortunately it wasn’t unique. Through the course of the two-week boot camp, I learned a lot about the students and the obstacles and hardships they were facing. I thought to myself, “what would they be doing if this opportunity with Propel wasn’t available?”

By the end of the program, the students were extremely confident in themselves–and as the instructor, I was confident in their ability to succeed. One of the students contacted me after completing his medical assistant training program and expressed his gratitude for me introducing him to Propel. He explained that had it not been for Propel, he did not know what he would be doing right now. He said he would likely have fallen victim to the streets. I could not fully express how proud I was of him and his fellow classmates. It was my honor to play a small role in their success, and I realized how great of an opportunity it was for them, too. I know in my heart that Propel will be able to change so many lives moving forward. I can’t wait to see how far this program can go; our kids desperately need it.

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Newsletter: April 29th, 2020 Wed, 29 Apr 2020 21:14:36 +0000

Propel Newsletter
April 29th, 2020

Propel America Partners and Supporters,

Amidst this global pandemic, we are reminded of the particular impact on our country’s teenagers and young adults. With high schools and colleges closed, and with unemployment on a steady rise, youth from urban and rural communities alike face an economy that stands to leave them behind, straining the American dream for a generation.

Our mission is to connect recent high school graduates with good first jobs (you can read about one of those graduates, Che’Quai Abney, here). We feel a particular urgency at Propel to adapt and meet our students’ needs in this trying time and are thus making important and urgent adjustments to our model.

Today and tomorrow: 
  • All 16 of Propel’s high school partners and all but one of our eight community college and training partners have closed for the remainder of the school year. We have therefore shifted our Core high school curriculum, typically taught in partner high school classrooms, to a virtual format, delivered directly by Propel staff. We feel deep gratitude to those teachers who had been delivering our curriculum before this moment. Their great work established a strong foundation from which to close out the year.

  • Our training partners are still assessing when they will be able to fully re-open. That said, we have received nearly 90 applications to Specialization, the training portion of Propel’s program, and we look forward to placing fellows with our partners as soon as possible.

A long-term view: 

  • We continue to believe that a powerful Core experience, customized one-on-one recruitment, skilled coaching, and strong employer relationships are critical to the success of our fellows. This moment has also highlighted the potential of blended learning, in which students receive the benefits of both online content and in-person coaching.

  • We are shifting our longer-term strategy to include the possibility of students following Core with a blended model of credentialing, student support, and job placement. By moving online, training will become more accessible and flexible, allowing students to learn at their own pace while simultaneously getting regular, in-person support from Propel staff.

  • This summer, we will launch a blended healthcare training pilot as we test, design, and ultimately develop a future state of Propel that leverages online content at a more significant scale.

Our nation is now confronting an uncommon and tragic need to generate jobs and help skilled individuals access them. We are building a model that bridges the education-to-work divide, even and especially in a time when students cannot gather with their teachers, classmates, or prospective employers.

We are committed to connecting those students with the pathways they deserve. Please know we are more grateful than ever for your continued support.

All our best,

John & Paymon

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An Interview with Che’Quai Abney, Certified Medical Assistant Thu, 23 Apr 2020 18:27:39 +0000

“I've made many people proud, including myself”

An Interview with Che’Quai Abney, Certified Medical Assistant

Many of our fellows that started training in healthcare fields last summer have already begun their careers as certified medical assistants, certified nursing assistants, or sterile processing technicians. Now, these young people are on the front lines of a global pandemic.
This is a deeply sad and frightening moment for us all, but we are bolstered by the phenomenal energy and brilliance of our young people. We wanted to share some of that energy through this interview with Che’Quai Abney. We spoke with her earlier this spring, before COVID-19 had fully hit the United States.
Che’Quai is a New Jersey fellow and a medical assistant at a satellite of Cooper Hospital. We are so glad she made the choice to enter this profession and that she brings such passion and dedication to her work.

Che’Quai at her training program’s completion ceremony

Why did you decide to be a part of Propel America?

Before leaving for college, I was looking for a trade. I didn’t want to be a broke college student. I wanted to find a trade. I was introduced to Propel by my high school counselor. Propel sounded like a great opportunity where I felt like I could benefit long term. I would also be able to continue achieving my goal of going to college while working a decent job.

What is your job?

I am a full time certified medical assistant. I work in an orthopedic oncology office in Cooper Hospital. I work with people that have many different bone cancers and other various bone diseases. My role in the office is to prepare the doctor’s chart and triage patients, meaning I take their height, weight, and pain assessments. My job is to make sure the patient is well taken care of and feels comfortable before the doctor comes in.

What are some ways that Propel helped prepare you for that job?

In my senior year of high school, Ms. Laura [Propel America’s Program Director in New Jersey] helped us with our resumes. We also did a cover letter and a career map for how we could get the job we wanted after high school.
During my medical assistant class at the American Training Center, I received a stipend check, which was very helpful for me. My main focus was school, so having a job during that time would’ve been a distraction, but I still needed to take care of myself financially. I used the stipend to buy my own stethoscope and scrubs, which we needed for class.  

How would you describe Ms. Laura?

Ms. Laura was my mentor. She held my hand through this process and she was someone I could talk to. If I needed any advice, or needed any guidance, she was there for me. She made me realize things I didn’t know about myself, and she saw things in me that I didn’t see at first. She was my advocate.

Che’Quai’s Clinical Medical Administrative Assistant course completion certificate, and two awards, for academic excellence and “most dedicated student.”

How do you feel about what you have accomplished?

I am so proud of myself for making this decision and completing the training course at the top of my class. To be honest, in the beginning, I doubted my decision because I looked at all my friends and their situations. Everyone planned on going to college right after high school, and I felt that I was missing out on that college lifestyle experience. Now, I feel like I have accomplished a lot. I am nineteen years old and working as a medical assistant in a big name hospital. I’ve overcome a lot of personal battles during this journey. I’ve made many people proud, including myself, and I’ve overcome all of the things people said I couldn’t do. I got the chance to speak at the graduation for my class of medical assistants at the American Training Center, and for the class after mine, which was a big accomplishment for me.

I am really happy that I decided to go through with Propel—that was the best decision for me. If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.


Today, Che’Quai is focused on keeping her patients safe in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. We are so grateful for her, for our other healthcare fellows, and for their colleagues in the medical field nationwide. 

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Newsletter: November 20th, 2019 Wed, 20 Nov 2019 21:21:01 +0000

Propel Newsletter
November 20th, 2019

Propel America Partners & Supporters,

Just a few months ago, we formally launched Propel America. 

We have set out to connect employers, higher education institutions, and K-12 systems to build an affordable pathway to an upwardly-mobile job for high school graduates across the country. 

Earlier this month, we held our first-ever Propel school partner training event in New Orleans for 80 teachers, counselors, and administrators from Louisiana, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Together, these educators will be serving 400+ high school seniors in our Propel Core Course, approximately 200 of whom will move forward into one of our career pathways after high school.

John with an employer partner, Terrie Sterling of Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center

Propel educators after their first day of training

We are incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made:

  • Our inaugural cohort of students from last school year in New Jersey and Louisiana are currently enrolled at training organizations to prepare for jobs in healthcare and the building trades. Presently, ~90% are on track to complete (or have already completed) their credential to begin the hiring process.

  • We have launched in two new regions: Western Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island. 

      • In Providence, we’ve partnered with Governor Gina Raimondo to support and build upon one of the country’s leading workforce development agendas. Alongside the Governor’s office, the state’s Department of Education, and the Community College of Rhode Island, we are developing pathways in the advanced manufacturing sector.
    • In Holyoke and Springfield, Massachusetts, we’re working closely with the state’s Department of Education, Springfield WORKS (a local workforce development intermediary), and Springfield Technical Community College to build a photonics pathway to prepare our fellows to become laser technicians.

    We’re incredibly encouraged by the work ahead and believe deeply that with our “third way” approach to postsecondary planning, high school graduates can access life-changing opportunities that didn’t previously exist for them. And in turn, we believe the economy will benefit, too, with employers developing a sustainable, diverse talent pipeline into critical middle-skill jobs.

    There is real momentum in our respective geographies to ultimately create long-lasting change. We couldn’t be more excited about what’s ahead. And, as always, we are enormously grateful for our supporters, whose backing makes this work possible.

    We look forward to keeping you close to our progress.

    With gratitude,

    Paymon Rouhanifard
    John White

Propel fellow Junisse Ventura will be working at Cooper Family Medicine as a certified medical assistant and will attend Rutgers University-Camden in the spring 

Paymon welcomes educators to the training

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A Letter from Our Founders Tue, 07 May 2019 16:11:02 +0000

Dear friends,

As classroom teachers and leaders of K-12 education systems, we came to understand that setting students up for success meant thinking beyond graduation rates. Every year, we saw students graduate with immense potentialand every year, too many of those students floundered. They had completed high school successfully, but were left without a viable, affordable pathway to a strong first job. They had been presented with a false choice: forgo income and accrue significant debt while pursuing a traditional 2- or 4-year degree; or forgo education for low-wage work without upward mobility.


At the same time, we came to know the people leading companies, community colleges, and high schools in the communities where we worked. We realized they held the power to build an affordable connection between high school graduation and a good first job. If done right, this connection could grow to scale in rural and urban communities alike. We founded Propel America to help make this possibility a reality.


Propel America links those high schools, companies, and community colleges to build pathways from high school graduation to an upwardly-mobile first job. We then empower students with the skills, experiences, credentials, and social networks necessary to use those pathways. We’ve begun piloting such routes to middle-skill jobs in healthcare and construction in Louisiana and South New Jersey. But our dream and charge extend nationwide. We believe local communities throughout our country will build these connections between high school graduates and prosperous life opportunities. So we have set out to develop a scalable, cost-effective model that can be used in any community, urban or rural, red or blue. We will connect young people to powerful opportunities and help employers build phenomenal teams.


We have a great deal to learn on this journey. You have already contributed to making it possible. We hope you will take a minute to learn more about our work. In the meantime, we couldn’t be more excited about pursuing this vision for what communities can achieve for the next generation of Americans.


John White, Chairman



Paymon Rouhanifard, CEO



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Propel featured in Fri, 26 Apr 2019 19:24:32 +0000

Forbes recently called Propel America’s session at the annual ASU-GSV conference one of the two most important announcements “at the most important conference on education innovation.”  Read the full article here.

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