“How can you aspire to a career that you’ve never heard of?”
This is the core question Michelle Cho asked herself when developing her nonprofit, Gladeo.
Gladeo is a digital media nonprofit that fosters career exploration for young people with diverse backgrounds. Its platform serves as a sort of virtual career day, exposing disadvantaged and lower-income students to careers they might not even know exist. Gladeo is already being used in over 5,000 schools across the country, and has quickly become a crucial tool for guidance counselors with limited resources.
The initial idea for Gladeo came through co-founder, Michelle Cho’s involvement with career days as an independent film producer. She’s spoken at over 100 career days herself, and was met with the same frustration at each one: the lack of variety in the types of jobs represented. She worried that students in underserved communities just wouldn’t know about the sheer breadth of emerging careers out there, and wanted to be sure that they weren’t left behind.
She turned this dissatisfaction into action, and looked to her roots in film production for a solution. “That’s what video and technology can do: it can kind of bring the world to your fingertips,” says Cho.
Gladeo produces a variety of videos highlighting professional women and people of color in a full spectrum of fields, that students, teachers, and counselors alike can then use for inspiration.
It’s central to Gladeo’s mission to feature the success stories of people from marginalized communities, because those are the sorts of students they’re hoping to help and inspire the most. Cho explains, “Especially women and people of color, you’re not represented as much in media—whether it be in the news or in Hollywood or Tv shows and things like that.” This representation is essential to reaching Gladeo’s target audience. “So we purposefully choose women and people of color so that it’s reflective of the student population that we’re serving,” she says.
“You have to see it to believe it,” says Cho. “When you show relatable individuals to the students, they’re more likely to believe that they can do it.”
The Gladeo team addresses three main gaps:
1. The Belief Gap: The mental block that many students of color and female students have from not seeing people like them succeed in a given career field.
2. The Network Gap: Many first-generation college students don’t have the built-in network of connections that other more privileged students have. “If you don’t have parents who work in that industry, or if you don’t have teachers and counselors who know people in that industry, you don’t get that insider knowledge,” says Cho. “So how do you actually get your foot in the door?”
3. The Information Gap: Not knowing that certain careers even exist in the first place. “Nowadays, there’s emerging careers being created like every single year,” says Cho. Which leads us back to Cho’s initial question: “How do you aspire to a career that you’ve never even heard of?”
Gladeo looks to shrink these gaps by Inspiring/Empowering, Educating, and Connecting students. Their videos serve as the best source for inspiration and empowerment. Once this excitement reaches a student, Gladeo helps demystify the education process she will have to go through to pursue that career, i.e. what schooling she’ll need, what skills she’ll have to build, etc. Then they connect students with resources through partnering organizations, such as the American Institute of Architects and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, who put content on Gladeo’s platform.
One of Gladeo’s most important features is its internal internship program called the Gladeo League. It’s comprised of college students and recent graduates studying film production who then produce all of the videos for the Gladeo platform. The benefit of the Gladeo League is two-fold: the content is created that Gladeo needs in order to operate, while the students within the program are gaining valuable professional experience and material for their reels to help land jobs in the future.
Similarly, Gladeo has a team of student reporters studying media journalism or communications who help identify professionals to feature, and then conduct the interviews on camera. Cho says of the Gladeo League and student reporters that, “Even though they’re learning too, they’re getting experience, they get to be part of inspiring and educating other students.”
“We’re trying to instill the values of caring for other people, aside from yourself,” says Cho. “When young people have agency, when young people are giving back, it builds confidence. It builds independence, it makes them feel like they have a place in this world.”
Cho believes that investing in the empowerment of young people, no matter their skin color, sex, or background, will make a huge impact. “When you give them that opportunity, they shine,” she says. “Millennials are the most resourceful generation. If you empower a Millennial or a young Gen Z, the sky’s the limit.”