Working for a Living: Young Adults Share Their Career Success Stories
“What do you plan to do when you graduate?”
It’s a question every high school student has been asked more than once. But how do you even begin to answer it?
At first, you may think only in terms of what classes you like best, but then you start having conversations with teachers and counselors, and other questions emerge: How am I going to get to where I want to be? What is my path?
And then, as you begin the process of choosing the right curriculum for job training or college, as you decide whether you should intern during summers or perhaps enter into an apprenticeship program, you might begin asking yourself: What will success look like? Where do I see myself in my early twenties?
We asked a few Delawareans in their early 20s who graduated from Delaware’s vocational-technical high schools to reflect on where they are, how they got there and where they think they’re going next.
It should come as no surprise that when Ayooluwayimika “Ayo” Ajao started on his career path fresh out of Howard High School of Technology, he hit the ground running. After all, as a high school athlete, Ajao set state records in track events.
Today, Ajao is a personal banking advisor at Valley National Bank in New York City as well as CEO and creative director of Taofeek Studios, a bespoke tailoring company that is special events-oriented. “My goals are to be an entrepreneur owning several companies,” he says, “and I also am contemplating going to law school soon.” He has several possible destinations in mind — Seton Hall, the University of Maryland and Howard University among them.
No one, especially not Ajao, can doubt his work ethic and determination. “I was very, very active in college,” he says, “going between jobs and classes and back to jobs again.” Whereas he was prominent in extracurricular activities at Howard— he is a 2017 graduate — he decided in college to concentrate on working and networking, graduating from the University of Delaware with study concentrations in economics and Africana studies.
Ajao’s resume of internships served in high school and college is also of record-breaking dimensions in terms of variety. He worked in the Washington office of Sen.Chris Coons, with WSFS Bank, Prudential Advisors, Bank of America Private Bank, BLK Capital Management, McKinsey & Company, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.
“The time I spent in the Bank of America office in Boston was especially interesting,” Ajao says. “Working with a portfolio manager, I learned about how a manager evaluates the long-term financial needs of each client. It was also interesting to see the differences in financial needs between the retiring baby boomers and the next generation.”
A native of the Glasgow/Bear area, Ajao also is quick to say his high school experiences served him well. “I was fortunate to have several mentors at Howard, from teachers to my track coach,” he says. “That was important in getting to where I am today.”
Having job satisfaction can be a great thing. And, says Danna Betancourt, if you’re making a good income while doing that job, that’s all the better.“I was about 16 and a student at Delcastle High School,” Betancourt says, “and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I graduated. But the more I thought about an apprenticeship program, the more I was convinced that would be a good way to earn money.”
Today, Betancourt has finished the classroom part of her apprenticeship program with M. Davis & Sons, which paid for her education, and she expects to finish up her 8,000 hours of work later this summer, at which point she will have earned her journeyperson license. The work has also been rewarding in additional ways. “I bought a house in 2021,” Betancourt adds. “It’s a good place, and owning my own home is very rewarding.”
She comes to the job naturally. She was a good math student in school, “and I’ve always enjoyed troubleshooting and problem-solving,” she says. Much of her apprentice classwork was done virtually, as Betancourt entered the program during the pandemic, but she did take some classes in person at Hodgson Vocational Technical High School.
“I’ve done a lot of work in sheet metal and duct work, but right now we are on a commercial job doing the plumbing for commercial sinks at the DuPont Experimental Station,” she says. “I enjoy doing commercial work rather than consumer work because the hours are steady — from 6:30 to 2 p.m.” Looking ahead, Betancourt would like to get her master’s license, she says, and notes that her foreman at M. Davis has also served as a mentor to her.
When asked about the challenges of young women entering what has been a mostly male environment, she says, “I think things are changing, and not just in attitudes about women. I believe people are becoming more sensitive in general and about what they say.”
And, as a homeowner herself, she likes the fact that now family and friends call on her to solve some of their maintenance and housing problems.
Mayda Berrios is using her own experience as a teenager who spent four years in the foster care system as inspiration to chart her blossoming career in social work and education.
“When I was in high school at St. Georges, I was in the Teachers Academy, and my eyes were opened to all the possibilities there were in education,” she says. “My teachers were all very helpful in shaping who I am, and we shared things with each other and trusted each other. I still keep in contact with my guidance counselor.”
In college, Berrios switched her major from education to social work, while keeping one foot in education, and this past spring she graduated from Delaware State University with a master’s degree in social work. “While I was still taking classes, I interned at a middle school,” she says. “This summer I will beat a camp in Massachusetts, and, after that, I will decide where I want to go next.”
Although she is not ready to jump back into the academic world just yet, she says, “A doctorate is still in the back of my mind.”
Berrios has used her time wisely, being involved both in volunteer work and in public advocacy. A primary accomplishment was to work with Gov. John Carney in starting an initiative through which foster youth — kids like her — could attend state colleges tuition-free.
She has also done volunteer work with the Division of Family Services and works with an inspirational foster care organization for young people called Companion Champions. While in school, she became interested in talent pageants that promoted family services, and, as most of her family came from Puerto Rico, she was chosen to be Miss Puerto Rico Sweetheart, a stepping stone to furthering her interests in serving her community.
And what does she do with her free time? “My students in middle school were always kidding me about loving to travel. ‘Where did you fly last weekend?’ they would ask me.