What is it like to work in media and entertainment? To run a large business? To manage employees and budgets and clients? A group of New York City students found out over the course of the 2014-15 school year as they immersed themselves in Viacom’s Unlimited Potential (UP) Mentoring initiative, part of the company’s ongoing Viacommunity program. In June, this group of mentees gathered at Viacom’s global headquarters in Times Square for a year-end celebration that included remarks from CEO Philippe Dauman.
The students, a select group from nearby Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School, had spent the school year creating and running a virtual corporation under the tutelage of Viacom mentors and their teachers. The students created the business, T-Squared, with a group called Virtual Enterprises International, an in-school entrepreneurship program that simulates the functions of a real business, including finance, sales, marketing, human resources and IT. As part of the celebration, the students provided an overview of their business, an ad sales-driven media content company, to the audience of mentors.
The strength of the program, which was an outgrowth of Viacom’s BEAT employee resource group, lies not only in this total immersion into a business, with the students dedicating a full 90-minute class period to its operation each day, but in its deep exposure to working media professionals and long duration – the program extends beyond the students’ high school graduation and into their college years and ultimate entry into the workforce.
Dauman underscored these points in his remarks. “What makes this program unique is that it’s not just a one- or two-year thing. Through UP, we are giving students a rare opportunity to be exposed to the media industry, and we are sustaining connections with them that span college and hopefully their entry into our business.”
After a year of running their business and competing with students engaged in similar initiatives, the UP mentees had earned a celebration and a little break from the pressure and excitement that are the inescapable characteristics of running a modern corporation.
Even as the dozens of Viacom UP mentors stick by these now-veteran mentees as they enter college or move up in high school next year, the program will expand in fall 2015, with the aim to double the number of students participating. Looking ahead, Viacom, which has offices across the United States, hopes to expand the program beyond New York City’s five boroughs beginning in 2016.
The planned expansion is a natural outgrowth of Viacom’s missions to contribute meaningfully to our communities and develop the talent that will help our industry thrive well into the future. “At Viacom, education has always been a top priority,” said Dauman. “Young people are the meat of the audiences we serve and the key to our future. Preparing them to go on to college and careers is critical.”