“When we sent our students home on March 13, we had no idea we’d still be figuring out our next steps months later,” says Patrick Bittorf, vice president of advancement at Christ the King Jesuit College Prep (CTK) in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side.
Through CTK’s unique Corporate Work Study Program, its students — 95 percent of whom are Black, 5 percent of whom are Latinx, and whose household median income is $26,861 for a family of five — earn a majority of their school tuition by working at CTK’s partner companies in industries ranging from health care to law to finance. The program gives students real-world skills for success in school and the workplace; since CTK’s first class graduated in 2012, 100 percent of its graduates have been accepted to college.
The work-study program had to pause when Illinois’ shutdown order went into effect in March of 2020, meaning that CTK needed to explore new sources of funding. Christopher Noon, Chicago Booth MBA ’72 and CTK supporter, connected Bittorf with Booth COVID-19 Volunteers, a program of the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation created to support nonprofits, government agencies, and social enterprises facing unexpected challenges because of the pandemic. Organizations can request Booth students’ consulting expertise on projects that need specialized skills like quantitative analysis, research, and strategic planning. (The program has since expanded to include Booth Community Volunteers, an opportunity for students to do anti-racism work and support organizations that partner with Black communities.)
Jeremy Siegel, MBA’20, a Booth COVID-19 Volunteer, began his engagement with CTK by building a list of grant opportunities for the school’s athletic and music departments. “He did that quickly, and then asked, ‘what else can I do to help?’” says Bittorf. Siegel’s next project, a data-rich presentation for CTK to use in approaching prospective funders, will help the school get through what Bittorf calls “an existential crisis.” “We have to make the case to our donor community like never before for why this school and its mission are so important,” he says.
The relationship between Booth and CTK continued to deepen when a team of four students from Booth Social Impact (BSI), a volunteer program created and run by evening and weekend MBA students, worked with CTK to maximize students’ preparedness for work-study when the program is able to resume. “We know we can’t expect things to go back to the way they were” before the pandemic, Bittorf says, “so we’re going to have to reorient our program.”
For ten weeks, the BSI team did a deep dive into the work-study program, identifying future job-market trends and interviewing corporate partners about the hard and soft skills student workers need. The team then created a new framework for CTK students’ summer work-study training, with concrete recommendations for improving the curriculum in everything from business ethics to note-taking skills.
“Booth has done a lot to help us weather the storm over the summer,” Bittorf says. And the assistance continues: a new BSI consulting team is coming on board to help CTK ensure that corporate work-study partners have the best possible experience with CTK student employees. “This has turned out to be a wonderful, impactful experience,” Bittorf says, “definitely a source of light in the midst of a lot of concern and darkness these last few months.”