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| Photo by Bowstring Studios

Credit: Bowstring Studios

When internship application season rolled around last fall, College junior David Thai found himself facing rejection after rejection. After speaking with friends who had already been hired for the summer, Thai realized that while he was waiting patiently to hear back, his friends had sent follow-up emails, reached out to alumni and asked people for references.

“I didn’t know the skills or things you had to do to really get your foot into the door,” Thai said. “I thought it was just dropping your resume and waiting to hear back.”

Thai soon realized that his experience was common among first generation low income students who do not have the “social capital” that enables more privileged students to advance in their professional careers, he said.

This prompted Thai to launch Collective Success: a nonprofit organization that connects first-generation, low-income students with professionals across various industries in the Greater Philadelphia region.

Since its launch in January, 85 professionals in Philadelphia have signed up to be part of the Collective Success. These professionals come from a wide range of industries — finance, technology, education, the public sector — and from established companies such as Comcast, Ernst & Young and The Vanguard Group.

“My dad is a fish salesman, and my mom doesn’t work, so I can’t expect them to connect me with a lawyer or consultant that can help me get a job,” Thai said. “The Collective Success is providing a way in which professionals can channel their support for FGLI students, whether that’s through workshops or mentorship.”

Thai collaborated with 2006 Wharton MBA graduate Due Quach, whom he met when she visited Penn’s Pan-Asian American Community House to run a leadership and mindfulness program from her organization Calm Clarity.

Thai and Quach worked together to start Collective Success chapters at Penn and at Drexel University, whose chapter is called Dragon’s First, and they hope to continue to expand the program to universities across the country.

Lananh Ho, a junior at Drexel University studying biomedical engineering, said Dragon’s First will be Drexel’s first campus support group for FGLI students. Understanding the lack of a professional network for FGLI students, Lananh said that she hopes to organize as many professional networking events as possible.

“I didn’t know how to create a good resume or socialize in a professional environment, so it was hard to get my first internship,” Lananh said. “I didn’t have any professionals mentoring me, so I had to a create a network for myself, which is very difficult.”

Earlier in April, Collective Success hosted its first “meet and greet” session, where students were asked what they hoped to get out of the program. Of the 75 students that attended the event, many responded that they were looking for both professional mentorship and a community for FGLI students.

Wesley Wong, a first-generation student who now works as a senior consultant at Ernst & Young, said he hopes to serve as a useful mentor and resource for students who come from similar backgrounds.

“If students have career questions or are interested in certain industries, I can point them to certain resources or give them tips or guidance,” Wong said. “But I’d also say that Collective Success is not just a network, but a community where FGLI students can come together to share their struggles and support each other.”