This summer wasn’t what any of us pictured, but it wasn’t just vacations that were canceled. Many US companies eliminated in-person summer internship programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This left a lot of students, especially in underrepresented areas, without the tools they need to progress their education. That is until Mary Stutts and her daughter Loren created the first-ever virtual internship program for underrepresented high school and college students through their organization, The Center for Excellence in Life (TCEL).

80 Kids & Counting

Growing up as a Black foster child, Mary Stutts saw firsthand the inequities in education, which led her to form TCEL. Their mission is to break down roadblocks for underrepresented youth and young professionals. And when COVID-19 created yet another obstacle to overcome, Mary and Loren designed an unprecedented program that gives students the opportunity to connect with working professionals and gain real-world experience via video mentoring sessions.

This unique program is sponsored by the W2O, Blue Shield, Morgan Stanley, Catalyst Biosciences, and Agenus Bio, and featured internship options for high school students, college freshmen and sophomores across a variety of areas, like STEM, communications, fashion and digital entertainment. Plus, it created a supportive environment for students to grow and connect in the face of ongoing racial and social injustice across the country. At the end of the program, each of the 80 students found their voice as they defended their ideas and developed the grace to receive constructive feedback by giving a presentation to the Virtual Leadership panel.

Finding Her Voice

Mary’s profound effect on these students didn’t happen overnight, it was many years in the making. Mary’s foster mother was one of the first teachers in the state of Louisiana to get credentialed in special education because she believed every child could learn. She instilled in Mary that people are valuable no matter what labels may have been put on them. Mary then imparted these values on her daughter, Loren, and onto the TCEL organization as a whole. But it was her ability to cultivate the power of her voice that made a tremendous impact in her life. It gave her confidence to pursue goals and roles that she might not have otherwise and shaped one of her major priorities in life—helping underrepresented and underserved people find and use their voices as well.

The Power to Empower

This summer Mary and Loren’s program has already reached 80 kids around the country with the goal of helping thousands more. One of those students is Kaylyn, who just completed her freshman year at Howard University. Because of COVID-19, her summer internship was abruptly canceled. However, following the completion of the TCEL Virtual Internship, she now has more clarity on the career paths available to her, and is more determined than ever to become a diplomat. This is just one of many stories to emerge from this special, virtual experience. Mary and Loren’s impact continues to grow through this and other TCEL programs, one student at a time.

Click here to learn more about TCEL, their programs, and the incredible impact they are making on today’s youth.