Immigrants And Refugees

Harvard student Onyekachi Agwu shares her drive via Summer Youth Employment Program

Onyekachi Agwu Photo Credit Onyekachi Agwu

There are no leisurely summers for Onyekachi Agwu. She doesn’t waste time.

The Bronx Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) worker was introduced to the program during summer vacation when she was a student at the Bronx High School of Science, among the most selective of New York City public high schools.

“I liked the flexibility. I didn’t just want to do one job,” she remembered about that summer, where she taught summer camp children dance in the SYEP program sponsored by Catholic Charities.

She took advantage of that flexibility: in the mornings, she worked on a school research project, studied for college entrance exams, went to her job at SYEP in the afternoons, and capped off her days with track practice.

The busy summer effort paid off on a number of fronts: she is now a pre-med student at Harvard, and this summer returned to SYEP to teach Microsoft technology to high school students, who are also enrolled in SYEP, learning job skills while being paid a stipend.

In her first SYEP summer, Ms. Agwu taught 6 year olds dance and soon discovered that, even as she introduced them to more formalized training, children that age “want to have fun.” So she introduced some more free-form movements. “It taught me a lot about working with kids, especially in a field like dancing,” she said.

Her own collegiate career incorporates both dance and science.

She will return to Harvard in the fall, focusing on neuroscience, exploring the wonders of the brain and cognitive understanding. This year Harvard is going back to normal classes after a pandemic forced classes to be done virtually.

It wasn’t ideal. But Ms. Agwu was able to live on campus for her freshman year, establish friendships and worked with faculty. She participated in a dance showcase. One of her classes was on the complexity of brain regeneration.

She comes from a family used to the academic experience. Her parents, both of whom work for the City of New York, graduated from college in Nigeria and settled in the Bronx with their five children. Ms. Agwu has three sisters and a brother.

At SYEP, she is teaching high school students, not much younger than herself, via distance learning. The goal is Microsoft certification, making them more prepared for jobs in the burgeoning tech area.

 “Microsoft and IBM are in a deficit of skilled workers. They need to train people,”
Ms. Agwu said about her summer SYEP teaching, hoping to inculcate in a slightly younger generation of SYEP students the value of determination and drive.