Stories

Helping San Francisco Youth Succeed in STEM Fields

In my role with Deloitte Consulting, I worked with a variety of public-sector clients, including the Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security, and managed projects that made a real difference in people’s lives. Although I found the work exciting and challenging, I still felt like there was something missing.

In consulting, you are advising your clients, providing them an outside perspective on their organizations. I was fascinated by the idea of working from within, specifically with a local government, where you are so close to the population you are serving. I wanted to roll up my sleeves and help tackle really difficult systemic problems and policy challenges, all the while using the skills I had gained through my private-sector management consulting career.

So when my sister-in-law alerted me to an opportunity to work with the City of San Francisco through FUSE Corps, I jumped at the chance. The project involved helping the City’s diverse local youth get the education and preparation they need to enter STEM fields. San Francisco has a multitude of amazing technology and biotech companies, but data demonstrates that the majority of the STEM workforce is comprised of White and Asian males. These STEM jobs can be a real coup for individuals trying to tackle affordability, particularly in the Bay Area. I wanted to see more underrepresented populations tap into the field. I had done a lot of work with Urban Alliance, a youth workforce development organization during my time at Deloitte, where I was first exposed to and fell in love with youth workforce development so it felt like this opportunity was crafted just for me.

Fortunately the FUSE team along with the City of San Francisco agreed. When I found out I got the fellowship, I was excited to move out West, take on a new challenge, and make a real difference. But when I showed up for my first day at work the gravity of how enormous and complex this project was really hit me. I wondered if I was up to the task. As I began building my plan and meeting with my project champions and key stakeholders, the moment of doubt passed and I knew I was prepared. The great thing about working in consulting is you gain an excellent toolkit to help you handle any problem thrown your way.

Working with the Office of the Mayor, the San Francisco Unified School District and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce is an experience so different from what I was used to. The systems, processes and rules of the public-sector world are complex and don’t always make for smooth sailing. This year has been a constant learning experience. That said, it also is thrilling to be that much closer to the people I was trying to help, namely, San Francisco youth.

I remember the first time I sat down with a group of high school students; they talked about their goals of working at a major high-tech corporation like Facebook or discovering a cure for a disease at a biotech firm. Some of them understood the pathway to these careers, but many still needed to learn the basics of how to find, apply for, and secure a job. I realized that all the work I was doing – the cross-sector coalition building, data collection and analysis, strategic communications, and outcomes measurement – wasn’t just about getting a good return on investment or reaching a certain metric. It was about helping these youth achieve their dreams.

Nicola Clifford is FUSE Corps Fellow serving in the office of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. She previously worked as a management consultant with executive-level clients across the public, private and nonprofit sectors. As a senior consultant at Deloitte Consulting, she focused on strategic planning, program management and insider threat detection, prevention, and mitigation. She has managed large teams, performed in-depth analyses around strategic challenges and led change management strategies for a variety of clients. Nicola holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Michigan and a Master of Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

 

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