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The Capital One Student Banker Summer Program at NJIT Introduces High School Seniors to the U.S. Financial System and College Life

Student bankers outside of their dorm with their residential advisors

Every August, more than 40 students from high schools in Newark, Baltimore, and New York City spend six days on the NJIT campus learning about financial markets and institutions as they prepare to become tellers and customer service representatives in Capital One Bank branches located in their schools. “These are college-like courses and experiences, where the students learn about the different roles that banks and other institutions, such as the Federal Reserve System, foreign exchange markets, and investment banks play in the country’s financial system,” says Michael Ehrlich, associate professor of finance and lead instructor for the program.

But the Capital One Student Banker Summer Program is about much more than financial literacy – it is also a powerful introduction to college life and learning. The students live in dorms together and work in teams with students from other cities on research projects that they present to their peers and mentors on the last day. Since Capital One founded the program in 2007, it has graduated more than 150 students, 95 percent of whom have gone on to college.

“I wanted to do banking to be more well-rounded and to get an in-depth experience of the business world,” said Jennifer Hlavac, a rising senior at Belmont Preparatory High School in the Bronx, who added, “It is the most rewarding experience ever. I learned to trust and communicate effectively.”

NJIT students and recent graduates serve as the teaching assistants and residential advisors for the program and are part of its magic. They form bonds with the high school bankers, following their progress as they apply and are accepted to college.

“Students in the very first year adopted the acronym COBIF (Capital One Bankers Internship Family) which has stuck through the program’s five-year existence. Individuals become team-mates. In just six short days, they return to their branches, schools, and families with a new outlook on life,” says Billy McDermott, director of development for the School of Management and co-leader of the program. “Not only do students learn about finance and the college experience in general, they learn presentation and computer skills. Another key component is leadership. We engage select college students and alumni to become teacher and resident assistants. They take on adult responsibilities and supervise. It’s an added plus. COBIF now has a culture, carefully crafted, and built upon each and every year.”

Isaiah (Zay) Wilkerson ’12 and Rayven Johnson ’13 – both athletic standouts who have played basketball professionally since graduating – were among the alumni to return to campus this summer to work with the high school bankers. Both took a moment to discuss the program and life after NJIT.

What brings you back to NJIT?

Rayven: I’ve come back for a few basketball games since I graduated, but this summer is the first time I’ve spent any time on campus. I was an RA for this program in 2012 just before my senior year. It was a great experience working with the kids, watching them grow, and giving them little nuggets of wisdom.

Zay: This is my fourth year since I started as a junior. I really like spending time with kids – I like to inspire them. I tell them to wake up every day and do what they do better and better. I also come back to see old friends like Rayven and Billy McDermott, who has always been such a great supporter of mine. There is a real family-type feeling here.

What do you feel it’s most important to teach the high school bankers?

Rayven: They arrive here only knowing people from their school, so we have to drag them out of their comfort zone. We get them to room with kids from other schools. Taking these personal risks is what brings them out of their shell. These kids are unique – they come with different attitudes. This is good experience for me, because in life you’re going to deal with a lot of different personalities and you must learn to adapt.

Zay: I let them know the rules, like they’ve got to be up at 7 every morning and ready to go. I tell them they need to think about that when they decide to stay up late. This is important, because to succeed at life, you need to learn to follow rules.

What have you been doing since graduation?

Rayven: I’ve been playing basketball in Hanover, Germany for a team called TK Hannover in the northern division of Bundesliga 2. I play the off guard and small forward positions. I found the job through my agent. There are Germans and some Americans on the team and I’ve been learning German. It’s been a life-changing experience to live there. It showed me which things are really important in life – for me, that’s my faith, my family, and my health. It’s great to be living out a dream I’ve had since I was little – to play professional sports. When I got this call, I said why not go for it.

Zay: I played for the last two years with the Tulsa 66ers, an affiliate of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I’m a point guard and a shooting guard. I was drafted as the last pick in the last round my senior year. Professional sports can be pretty cutthroat, but I’ve been doing what I love and it’s exciting to be around NBA guys and veterans. I feel blessed to be able to play basketball. On court, all of your problems go away.

How did NJIT prepare you for professional life?

Rayven: It helped me grow because I had to rely on myself in ways that I previously hadn’t – my mom and dad weren't here to handle problems for me anymore. It helped toughen me up and I became more responsible and more mature.

Zay: NJIT taught me resilience. It’s not what you’d think of as a sports school, but I kept pushing to achieve. That made me work hard. What do I miss most? Being able to just walk down the hall and talk to my friends and teammates.