The pandemic has encouraged more than a fifth of college students to take at least a year off from their studies. But are these gap year experiences preparing students with tangible skills for their futures?

“Most of what’s out there is about saving the rainforest, or helping a family in Africa, or self-exploring during a backpacking trip — all great things in and of themselves, but nothing that necessarily prepares you for a career,” says Allie Danziger, who’s mentored more than 100 young professionals and interns since she founded the Houston-based Integrate marketing agency. She wanted to think about ways to use this educational downtime to help students forge ahead with purpose.

“Most students don’t know what they want to do in their first year of college, plus now they wouldn’t be getting the traditional freshman year experience,” Danziger says. In fact, the Hechinger Report says that college students take an average of 26 unnecessary college credits as they determine their interests, paying thousands of extra dollars in tuition.

This was the genesis for Ampersand, a professional development program from Danziger that teaches young people the skills they don’t learn in the classroom. “No one knows how to send a calendar invite, or ask for a promotion, or sit in a meeting, or how to do a brainstorming session,” she says confidently.  

Throughout the summer, Danziger worked to create a three-month interactive curriculum featuring courses on corporate structure and communications, sales 101, resume optimization tools, and more. There is also one-on-one coaching, mock interviews, and a personality assessment that helps young professionals map out their career.

Beyond simple tips and tricks, Ampersand matches every professional with three one-month internships at participating businesses — a list that currently spans retailers, nonprofits, private equity funds, startups, architecture firms, and home decor services. The idea is that young professionals will get the chance to explore a variety of career paths, and each business partner will receive a talented employee.

At the moment, Danziger is running a trial program with 10 businesses and 10 students to see how it goes, determine what’s needed, and plug gaps as they appear. Ampersand is currently recruiting both professionals and businesses that would like interns via its website.

By January 2021, Danziger hopes to enroll at least 30 students and really prepare to take off by next summer, when most businesses will accept interns. Danziger’s long-term vision is to bring the program to those in underserved communities to help build a robust talent pipeline so that companies hire better teams from a variety of backgrounds.

“I fundamentally believe that if we can get more diverse populations into internships, that it could change the boardroom down the road,” she says.


Interested in helping young entrepreneurs gain skills and explore their interests through mentorship? Check out the Hello Alice Find a Mentor Guide to learn more about how these relationships work.