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High school graduation is an extremely important achievement for an individual.

Investing in the Next Generation of Leaders

By: Beth Shiroishi, Vice President – Sustainability & Philanthropy

Investing in education is one of the single most important things we can do to ensure a strong future.

Beth Shiroishi Vice President – Sustainability & Philanthropy

Sometimes all it takes is a single voice to remind me why I do what I do for AT&T - and why it's so important to invest in programs that improve the life trajectories of students across the country. In 2012, that voice belonged to Vanessa Ramirez, a young woman from Houston, Texas.

In a moving video interview (below), Vanessa explained how she grew up surrounded by extreme poverty, and assumed that that she was destined for the same life of dead-end jobs and financial hardships that those around her endured. She also shared the fact that her life - and her expectations for what she was capable of accomplishing with it - changed forever when she walked through the doors of a program called Genesys Works.

Through a summer training course and placement in a paid internship at a Fortune 100 company, Genesys Works provided Vanessa with the training and support she needed to pursue a life path that she never envisioned for herself. She is now enrolled at Sam Houston State University in Texas, and she looks forward to pursuing a career in forensic psychology or criminal justice.

I learned about Vanessa's story because Genesys Works is one of the many proven programs that AT&T supported in 2012 as part of our Aspire education initiative. Aspire began in 2008 as a $100 million commitment to improving high school graduation rates, and in 2012 we expanded it through an additional $250 million investment planned over the next five years.

Our focus has remained the same since the launch of Aspire: high school success leading to college and career readiness. But, in 2012, we built upon the success of the program by employing a new "socially innovative" approach to improving graduation rates - one that goes beyond traditional philanthropy by applying inventive tools and resources to address the high school dropout crisis in  ways that are more effective, efficient and sustainable than ever before.

We helped accomplish this by investing in communities locally through our Aspire Local Impact Initiative. This program provided funding for 47 schools, school districts and nonprofit organizations across the country that are making a difference in their communities by keeping kids in high school and preparing them for college, career and life success—and that employ strong, evidence based practices.

We also connected our people to our efforts by launching the Aspire Mentoring Academy, through which we're educating and inspiring AT&T employees to help students at risk of dropping out of school succeed in the classroom and in life.  In 2012 we set the goal of providing 1 million hours of mentoring to students by the end of 2016, and we are already well on our way to reaching this unprecedented objective.

And finally, we sought exponential change through technology and innovation by collaborating with innovators, educators and other companies and by using AT&T Foundry Innovation Centers to blaze new ground in developing solutions to improve education. From successful education "hackathons" that result in apps that help engage students, to collaborating on a revolutionary nationwide initiative with GameDesk, pioneers in game-based and digital learning, 2012 was a landmark year for harnessing the power of technology to increase student success.

Investing in education is one of the single most important things we can do to ensure a strong future, and I'm thankful to be part of AT&T's efforts to help all students graduate from high school ready to hit the ground running in college or careers.  We're starting to see real progress, but we know there is more work to be done—which is why we'll continue to seek innovative ways to address the high school dropout crisis through AT&T Aspire.