SEO's Response to COVID-19

Underserved populations have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and SEO participants are overwhelmingly from those communities hardest hit.

Nevertheless, SEO’s staff team and young people are as resilient and invigorated as ever. Currently, we have almost 1,100 SEO Scholars attending public high schools in New York City and San Francisco – with nearly 1,000 in NYC alone – and an additional 900+ studying at colleges around the nation. We have more than 420 interns representing SEO Career at one of our 80+ corporate and Wall Street partners, over 100 Fellows representing SEO Law at 40 partner firms, and 35+ Fellows in SEO’s Alternative Investments program.

Despite the circumstances, SEO and SEO participants persevere. SEO remains dedicated to and inspired by the incredible spirit of our participants as they continue to work towards college graduation and professional success. Read more to see how SEO has reimagined our day-to-day to ensure the continued success of our programs and participants.

Hear directly from some of our Scholars about how COVID-19 has affected their learning experience.

SEO Scholars

Unfortunately, SEO students and families have had to deal with dozens of cases of coronavirus, and sadly, there have been at least 10 deaths of parents and other family members. We’re proud that SEO team members were there for our students and families, providing transportation to/from hospitals and food for families.

Many of our Scholars – particularly those currently in college – had to overcome a crisis as a result of abrupt closures of schools/campuses and the shift to online learning. SEO Scholars have faced every possible scenario that can affect low-income students, including challenges affording flights home or storage space, difficulty accessing online classes due to lack of internet or physical workspace, and, in some cases, not having a home to return to.

Our SEO Scholars team has worked nonstop to support the academic, personal, and emotional needs of our Scholars. The high-touch, 1:1 advising the SEO team provides to Scholars has always been a key driver of student success. As Scholars have grappled with the challenges and trauma of the pandemic over the last few months, this individualized support has been more critical than ever. With the leadership support and advocacy of SEO’s board of directors and our chairman, we helped Scholars overcome challenges by providing laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots, subsidizing storage costs, and assisting with costs for relocation and travel home from colleges. These measures have allowed our students to maintain academic momentum and maximize participation in distance learning.  This amazing support also allowed over $500,000 in direct cash grants to more than 1,000 Scholars and their families to defray to cost of basic needs, including food, clothing, rent, etc.  Finally, we were able to fund summer college tuition payments, so Scholars would remain on track for 90% graduating from college.  SEO will continue to provide financial assistance where possible.

While all of our programs have made significant modifications to allow for virtual delivery, the most substantial overhaul has been in our High School Scholars program model. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the program operated almost 100% in-person. Thanks to the efforts of the team, we have continued to operate our Saturday, afterschool, and summer classes through live instruction via Zoom and Google Classroom. The response from our Scholars has been tremendous, which is a true testament to the power of the SEO learning community.

For both our high school and college students, one of the major challenges is ensuring our students have the appropriate technology to engage in online classes.  At this point, virtually all SEO Scholars have overcome the lack of technology that was significantly impacting their ability to remain connected to SEO during this time, ultimately helping them to maintain momentum as they work towards their dreams of college graduation.

It is well documented that students in low-income communities are falling even further behind academically because of lower quality online instruction, which may continue into the fall. SEO is doing everything we can to keep our Scholars on track for a college degree, but we cannot overstate the critical importance of the past and ongoing support provided by the SEO community. The long-term, positive impact of our partners’ support will be felt for generations to come. To each individual and institutional supporter, we deeply appreciate you helping our Scholars to persevere despite the continuing effects of COVID-19 and the unrest in society. You are truly helping to create the systemic change needed to build a more equitable society.

SEO Career, Law, and Alternative Investments

After some initial uncertainty about summer roles for Career interns and Law Fellows, the overwhelming majority of SEO’s partner corporations and firms have moved forward with their commitment to conducting internships and fellowships in some form. In fact, the SEO Career intern Class of 2020 is over 40 participants larger than the Class of 2019, which was a huge accomplishment by the SEO Career team.

Many of our Career interns dealt with some financial challenges due to the pandemic. As with our Scholars, we were able to provide these interns with direct cash grants to subsidize the costs of some basic needs. This financial support ensured that all interns could successfully prepare for and begin their summer internship placements.

The biggest challenge for Career was reimagining the pre-internship training and orientation – the SEO Career Summit. Any SEO Career alum knows just how essential the Summit is in preparing interns for their placements, training them on technical skills, and imbuing them with SEO culture and principles. This year, our Career team entirely restructured the two-week event to allow for digital distribution, without impacting the community or networking. While the training came in very different packaging than ever before, we are confident that this format has allowed interns to be just as prepared for success as they have been every other year. In addition to training, the Summit featured more than 10 seminars delivered by SEO board members and industry leaders. Read more about the SEO Career Summit 2020 from Mindy Davis, Managing Director of SEO Career, here.

Our SEO Law Fellowship program required a similar redesign of the pre-Fellowship SEO Law Institute, which has historically been delivered as a two-week, in-person event. The SEO Law team worked diligently to ensure nothing was lost in translating the curriculum to an online format and also featured seminars by legal experts.

Finally, our SEO Alternative Investments program has shifted to virtual events and training, with Fellows’ interviews for the next program class being conducted digitally. The Alternatives team also continues adding new private equity firm partners to our Fellows Program.

Similar to SEO Scholars, the steadfast support of SEO partner firms and companies made it possible for there to be minimal impact on participants in our Career, Law, and Alternative Investments programs. As corporate America grapples with ways to address structural racism, SEO is proud to have already launched several new partnerships, and we are in talks to finalize others.

SEO Development, Communications, and Operations

Our Development and Communications teams have greatly increased our external communications with SEO donors and constituents, particularly via social media, where we’ve seen a surge in followers. Much like our programming, these teams needed to restructure our Annual Awards Dinner into a digital event. This virtual event included posting existing and new videos on a special webpage, for which we received a great deal of positive feedback. With passionate leadership from SEO board chairman Henry Kravis, we were thrilled to raise over $7 million – the greatest amount raised at any SEO Awards Dinner.

Finally, and just as importantly, our Administration, Executive Office, Finance, HR, IT, and Real Estate teams have expertly and efficiently adapted our operational processes to accommodate a workforce that is completely remote, to ensure the continued health, safety, and productivity of our entire SEO team. None of the above would be possible without the tireless efforts within these areas.