On September 1, only a handful of Philadelphians had heard of Launchpad. Over the next two months, our team gave info sessions, tabled at Back to School nights, hosted virtual webinars, and called countless students and families to build awareness and excitement about this new, innovative program.
In just two months, we spoke to 649 juniors and seniors at high schools across the city.
Narrowing Down - The Application Process
Out of that group of over six hundred students who we spoke to, 98 of them decided to fill out an application. All of those students submitted a personal statement describing their passions, life stories, and interest in the program. Out of the applicants, we were able to conduct interviews with 78 students.
For many applicants, this was their first interview ever.
In the interview, students were asked six questions:
- What made you apply to Launchpad?
- Describe a time when something was difficult. Explain what motivated you to keep going during this time?
- What is a problem in your community or the world that you care deeply about? How can technology help to create a solution to that problem?
- Tell us about a time you worked on a team. What role did you play on this team and why did you choose that role?
- Tell us about a time you failed or messed up. What happened? How did you grow and learn from that experience?
- Describe an experience that has impacted how you view yourself in your community?
We were blown away across the board at the quality of candidates we interviewed. Every student seriously considered each question and delivered an answer that was pointed, heartfelt, and honest. Needless to say, the process of selecting our inaugural cohort was a tough one.
Building a Cohort
When deciding who to accept, we wanted to consider the cohort. We weren’t just looking at the strongest individual applicants, but rather we wanted to create a collective group that met a few key criteria.
- We wanted our group to represent the city of Philadelphia. This meant ensuring students were from a variety of zip codes, high schools, and reflected the city’s racial and socioeconomic diversity.
- We needed all of our students to be passionate about technology, but we wanted other interests represented as well. Many students we spoke to were passionate about the arts, real estate, and entrepreneurship.
- We looked for students who had a range of tech experience, recognizing that tech opportunities are not evenly distributed across the district and some students may have never had the chance to work in tech before.
- We intentionally sought out women and non-binary candidates in order to work against the male dominance prevalent in the tech industry.
Every partner high school has at least two students represented in our inaugural cohort.
Meet your Launchpad 2023 Cohort
In the end, we found a cohort of students that we truely believe will lift each other up, empowering the whole to take on Philly and the tech industry with passion and bravery in three years when they graduate. Our cohort includes first-generation immigrants and Philly born students whose families have lived here for generations. We have student body presidents, volleyball team captains, color guard leaders, working photographers, aspiring authors, and skilled technologists. We also have a number of students whose full potential hasn’t yet been realized, emphasis on the yet.
We were surprised how many students expressed an interest in college as part of their interview and application. For those unfamiliar, Launchpad is intended to be an alternative pathway to college, equipping young adults with the skills necessary to land a good paying job in the tech industry without requiring a traditional 4-year degree. Many of these applicants expressed a desire to take a break from school before going to college or a need to work and save up before enrolling in university. I am curious to see how these applicants feel at the end of the three year program – if they will choose to continue on to college or decide to enter the workforce right away. No matter what, we know that Launchpad’s first class will teach us countless lessons.
To keep up with Launchpad’s inaugural cohort, follow us on social media @launchpadphilly on Twitter and Instagram. If you are interested in volunteering your time or resources, we can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org.