Eddie SummersBronx, NY
Academic SchoolLiberal Arts, Management
Eddie Summers believes in the Bronx. The two-time Marist graduate (Class of 2004 and MPA Class of 2006) grew up in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, and now his professional journey has brought him back there to make a difference. According to Summers, “People in the Bronx are real. Despite the poverty, we care about our community and have a strong sense of connectedness. But unlike areas such as Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Bronx hasn’t always gotten the government commitment it deserves. But we have great people and a culture of innovation, so there’s no reason we can’t be equally successful.”
As Executive Director of the Bronx Private Industry Council (PIC), Summers leads an initiative that strengthens the Bronx workforce by connecting local students with meaningful employment opportunities that align with the needs of local employers. The Bronx PIC was founded by HERE to HERE in partnership with the Bronx Borough President’s Office, the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, and a diverse and committed group of local employers and institutions. It coordinates a number of innovative programs, including internships for young people, business roundtables, and a pilot program in which students work to solve local business challenges. It launched formal operations on April 1 with Summers at the helm.
As Summers explains it, Bronx PIC is focused on structural change. “We are an employer-led and student-centered organization transforming how businesses, schools, and community groups develop talent pipelines. We tell educators the skills local businesses are looking for and work with them to find students who are bright and ready to learn. There are about 5,000 businesses in the Bronx, many of them small businesses, and we want to support both them and our youth to create a vibrant community in which people can develop their skill set, find a good job, and stay. These young people have great talent, and they can help sustain their community.” With real estate developers now starting to see the Bronx as a place for investment, the time is ripe to bring local people on board. And Summers wants to ensure that local residents are not displaced by gentrification trends and that they are part of the process of community development. On the flip side, he wants to make sure Bronx businesses are committed to the local community as they upscale their workforces.
On August 16, Summers hosted interns, educators, and employers in a celebration of success. Over the summer, the Bronx PIC connected more than 400 high school students to internships with 27 different community businesses. With internship experience often a necessary prerequisite to finding employment, Bronx PIC students are gaining valuable skills to add to their resumes and building the confidence they need to do great things. High school student Nicole Cruz, who presented on her internships at Dreamyard Preparatory School, learned Google sheets and other office systems while using her bilingual skills to collect student documents and help students with job applications. Said Cruz, “My advice is to speak with everyone at your office about what they do because you might learn something about their work that interests you.” Cruz is interested in exploring a future career in education policy.
Recent Lehman College graduate Rhonda Donkor also interned over the summer at Dreamyard Prep. With a dream of attending graduate school and becoming a social worker, she was looking to gain social work experience and develop her skills working with young people. As such, she worked as a Gaming Programs Coordinator in a program that exposes students to future career paths. Said Donkor, “I got to create various gamer profiles and put together market research for a gaming survey. I developed my problem-solving, critical-thinking, and technical skills.”
Summers spends a great deal of his time pitching local schools, businesses, and nonprofits to team up with Bronx PIC. “It’s all about creating pathways for young people and supporting Bronx businesses. Let’s build an ecosystem that lifts people out of poverty.” Among the most innovative programs pursued under Summers’ leadership is the Thinkubator, a pilot program in which young people work to resolve challenges facing Bronx businesses. Working in teams of three to six, the students provided recommendations for how Spring Bank could bring more people into the formal banking system and away from risky financial products. Another group helped family-owned Johnson Security Company figure out how to remain competitive with larger firms. Says Summers, “At the end of six weeks, the students present their ideas to the businesses, and they see how their advice is valued and taken seriously. Many of their recommendations were put into practice. It’s fantastic consulting experience for the students.”
As a former Marist and HEOP student, Summers knows how transformative opportunity can be in the life of a young person. “HEOP is such a critical program and a model for supporting students through mentoring and advising. It helps students, especially first-generation students, navigate college. HEOP helped discipline me as a person and influenced my career track.” Iris Ruiz-Grech, who directs HEOP and the Center for Multicultural Affairs at Marist, agrees that Summers was always headed somewhere: “Eddie is a perfect example of how HEOP works. He was a trailblazer as a student and continues to be one in his community. He took great advantage of the opportunity that opened the doors for him and now he is paying it forward.” As a student at Marist, Summer majored in political science and went on to earn his master of public administration degree at the College. (He later earned his PhD in public and urban policy at the New School in New York City.) He spent several years serving as Presidential Fellow under President Dennis J. Murray and learning the ins and outs of higher education administration. Later, he ran the president’s office at Union College and served in a senior strategy and planning role at Long Island University.
Six months into his new position with Bronx PIC, Summers couldn’t be happier or more fulfilled. Calling it the “best job ever,” he is confident about the positive impact he’s having on his community and believes that, if successful, the PIC model can be replicated around the world. As a former kid from the South Bronx, Summers knows that young people have to dream big and imagine themselves as part of the larger world. He adds, “I know there are better options out there for young people because I’ve been to Marist, I’ve studied abroad and traveled, and now I want to open the world to the people of the South Bronx.”