At Blue Shield of California, we know that people from underserved communities can bring valuable perspectives to health leadership positions, which is critical to transforming the healthcare system. This is one reason we offer a work-study partnership with Cristo Rey De La Salle High School in the East Bay, because in order to achieve health equity, it’s important to develop, support, and employ people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Our partnership with Cristo Rey prepares students from underrepresented backgrounds for current and future job opportunities in the healthcare industry.
Cristo Rey is a national network of 39 schools that provide a college preparatory education to students with limited financial resources, predominantly from institutionally underserved backgrounds. This partnership is a pipeline to bring more diversity from underserved populations into the healthcare space – a testament to our organization's diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. Cristo Rey student tuition is subsidized through work-study partnerships with businesses that provide high school students with the opportunity to receive a college preparatory education while gaining hands-on job experience before they graduate. Each student takes a full course load of classes, four days a week, during their four years while participating in a corporate work-study program one day per week.
Eight Cristo Rey De La Salle students (five freshmen and three sophomores) are currently enrolled in a remote six-month work-study program at Blue Shield of California in the IT department. This partnership helps bring fresh ideas and skills to Blue Shield, while supporting our mission by providing students with the skills and experience they would not typically obtain in a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom setting. This partnership was spearheaded by our chief of information security officer program manager, Joe Martinez.
To gain more insight on this unique partnership, we connected with chief information security officer, Eddie Borrero, on his idea to partner with Cristo Rey.
What prompted you to engage with the work-study partnership through Cristo Rey?
“I was introduced to Cristo Rey through some friends. Part of my team had worked to have Blue Shield donate old equipment to the Cristo Rey school in Sacramento. And as I began my journey here at Blue Shield, I got to know the Cristo Rey program more. A few
years ago, I saw one of the students who had graduated from their program in San Jose. She was speaking about her journey at Cristo Rey, her college experience, and her internship at Cisco. And as I heard her speak, I thought, ‘She has better public speaking skills than me after 30 years of being in the industry.’ She had an executive-level presence at only 20 years old and she gave the credit to Cristo Rey, so I wanted to know more and figure out how I could help.
A friend of mine was helping at Cristo Rey in San Jose, educating students via a coding program to help them understand how to develop software. Cristo Rey sends students through courses, then companies hire them, and the students are very hungry to learn and become great developers who bring their talents to the companies they work for. I thought, ‘I want to create something like that at Blue Shield of California.’ I got to know the school in the East Bay, and they asked me to be on their board of directors, which I’m very proud of. I have introduced Blue Shield’s human resources department to Cristo Rey, and sponsored and nurtured a pilot program to see if we can build an employee pipeline with the school that benefits both Blue Shield of California and the Cristo Rey program.”
What economic opportunities does this partnership provide for students?
“Alumni of Cristo Rey schools have a 90 percent college enrollment rate, in comparison to their communities’ rate of less than 10 percent. They also graduate college with bachelor’s degrees at four-times the rate of their socioeconomic peers. Many of these kids – I would say almost 100 percent of them – are the first in their families to go to college. I went to their graduation last year and I got emotional because it was so amazing to see the families. The pride and the hope in mothers, grandparents, and siblings was so inspirational. I truly believe that we can make a difference. I wish when I was young, I’d been given an opportunity to attend such a school. I was homeless as a teenager, trying to find a place to stay as much as I could. I did a lot of couch-surfing, slept in cars, and once in a while slept in parks. I worked my way out of that. I had to go to night school, work a full-time job, and go to regular high school as well to educate myself just to get to a place where I could graduate. I had desires to go to college, and so I was doing everything I could to just live and get basic education. I joined the Navy to get funding to go to college. These students have so much more than I ever had, and I love it. I absolutely love it.”
How does this partnership support our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts?
“Cristo Rey is focused on helping those who are underprivileged from diverse backgrounds. To see the students at school in such a happy state, supported by great leaders, great teachers, and to see them wanting to change their communities and be leaders at 14, 15, 16, 17 years old and show through example how people can change is so inspiring.”
What are your goals for the future of this partnership?
“Hopefully, we can get to a place where Cristo Rey is embedded into our employee pipelines. The trick here is not just that we have high schoolers come in who are providing entry-level value. Those students go to college, they get a great education, and guess where they want to come back to work? The places they worked at while they were in high school at Cristo Rey. Their employer organizations have this pool of committed, connected employees who have been around from the beginning of their journeys, and there’s no better connection than something like that, where you get somebody very talented who goes through college, gets through these experiences, and then brings all that back to an organization. The value proposition is really, in my mind, unmeasurable.”
To gain some insight into the benefits received by the Cristo Rey students participating in the work-study partnership with Blue Shield, we asked them about their experiences.
“My time at Blue Shield was great! A reason I say this is because my supervisors were amazing people to work with and they were always there if I had a question or concern. My supervisors always provided my team and I with a good amount of work and time to get that work done. They also provided us with lots of help when we needed it. I never felt neglected because they took the time to listen to every single one of us. Our thoughts and ideas were always heard. I really enjoyed working with my supervisors because they always made me feel welcomed.”
“Personally, I gained a lot of new skills on how to make presentations and videos for my partners and other work members to use in cybersecurity defense training. To keep track of what we were learning, we would take meeting notes that included action items and other things we were learning. These skills will help me when I’m older and looking for work.”
“My experience at Blue Shield of California was great, mostly due to the helpful and supportive team I had the privilege to work with. My supervisors were incredible in helping me overcome challenges and giving me feedback that will be helpful in my future. Since the first day working at Blue Shield of California, I felt welcomed and got to work right away!”
“Working with Blue Shield has given me a bigger and better understanding of how to handle workloads and how to dissect research to the best of my ability. These experiences are once in a lifetime. Working at a big corporation as a 14-year-old is truly remarkable and I just hope other people can experience the same as me.”
If you’d like to work with a company that believes in nurturing growth and development to ensure our company and industry reflects the diverse communities we serve, we’d love to have you on our team. Check out our available career opportunities!
*This year, Blue Shield of California was proud to be ranked #1 in the nation on DiversityInc’s 2023 Top Regional Companies list.
*A new survey by the Everest Group found Blue Shield of California to be a lead employer of tech talent.