Travelers EDGE Helps First Generation UConn Students Get a Degree and a Career

UConn graduates and Travelers Edge Scholars (from left): Armando Jimenez, Ashley Gil, A'Yana Morgan, Venice Sterling, Cristhian Bedon, and Bryant Dominguez. (Photo courtesy of the UConn Foundation)

Recent UConn graduates and Travelers Edge Scholars, from left: Armando Jimenez, Ashley Gil, A’Yana Morgan, Venice Sterling, Cristhian Bedon, and Bryan Dominguez. (Photo courtesy of the UConn Foundation)

Freshly minted college graduate Venice Sterling still recalls the loneliness of her freshman year in Storrs. As the first in her family to go to college, leaving her mom and four siblings made it a tough transition. “I thought more than once that this wasn’t for me,” she says, “that I wanted to go back home.”

But as a student in the Travelers EDGE (Empowering Dreams for Graduation and Employment) program, Sterling had a support system that helped her persevere. “My mentor was instrumental in making me understand I could and should stay in college,” says Sterling, who came to Hartford with her family from Jamaica when she was nine years old. Sterling also had Seanice Austin, the director of diversity initiatives at the School of Business, for advice on courses and help managing her schedule.

And there were the other Travelers EDGE scholars. “I had to make sure I matched up with the others. So I started doing my work and getting involved,” says Sterling.

Now with her degree in hand, Sterling will start work in June in the Human Resources Office of the University of Hartford. “I’m really excited. I felt like the Travelers EDGE program helped me learn the ropes of finding and keeping a job.”

Sterling and four other Travelers EDGE Scholars received their college degrees at graduation ceremonies in Storrs this month. (A sixth Travelers EDGE scholar, A’Yana Morgan, graduated in December.) The program was established by The Travelers Companies Inc. in 2007 to support underrepresented and first-generation college students and to prepare them for careers in the insurance and financial services industry. Through scholarships, the Travelers EDGE program covers up to four years of tuition and fees. It also provides support through mentoring – linking individual Travelers employees with individual Travelers EDGE Scholars – coaching, internship and networking opportunities, and professional development workshops for the participants, who must maintain a 3.0 grade point average.

At UConn, thanks to the Travelers Companies’ $3.2 million investment in the program, 74 students have participated, and all but two graduated. Seven UConn participants have been hired as full-time Travelers employees and more than half the graduates are working in the insurance and financial services industry. The program is also available to students at Capital Community College and Central Connecticut State University in Connecticut, and at several colleges in St. Paul, Minn., and Baltimore, Md., where the company also has extensive operations.

“Our long-standing partnership with Travelers enhances the academic environment for all our students, improving the effectiveness of our research and education, and helps ensure that our graduates are prepared for meaningful jobs that will support the state’s economy and help it grow,” says University President Susan Herbst. “It also brings students who might otherwise not be able to attend and provides them with the support they need to be successful.”

Marlene Ibsen, vice president of community relations and CEO of the Travelers Foundation, noted, “Education is the cornerstone of our philanthropic work. Last year, nearly half our giving went to educational causes and organizations, and we couldn’t be more pleased to celebrate the success of all our Travelers EDGE scholars. UConn has been a key partner in bringing this program to life, and we look forward to continually supporting opportunity together for many years to come.”

Bryant Dominguez, a Travelers EDGE scholar hired by Travelers, will begin his job June 10. Dominguez, who is the youngest of 10 children and the only one to go to college, says he’s looking forward to it. “I hear some students complaining that you have to work for the rest of your life, but I can’t wait to get started.”

“Growing up was a struggle,” says Dominguez, who watched his brothers get involved with drugs and gang violence. “I’m sorry about their problems, but I learned a lot from their mistakes.” His math teacher helped him job shadow at Travelers, which got him a tour of Travelers Claim University, its sophisticated training facility for claims professionals. There he learned about the Travelers EDGE program and was encouraged to apply.

Once in the program, Dominguez credits his mentor Kevin Adams, a Travelers vice president, for helping him succeed. “During my sophomore year, I was on the verge of flunking out of the program, with a 2.9 grade point average. My mentor made me realize I was about to throw away a great opportunity.”

A summer internship at Travelers after his sophomore year was a real turning point. Returning to school, his grades improved and he became a regular on the Dean’s List.

With his mentor’s encouragement Dominguez got involved, joining Lambda Alpha Upsilon and participating in community service projects. “Travelers EDGE helped me grow, giving me confidence and making me want to give back,” he says. Dominguez will be the alumni representative to the Travelers EDGE program next year.

Mentorship and networking were important elements of the Travelers EDGE program for Cristhian Bedon, who joins the leadership development program of United Technologies Corp. in June. “It helped me learn about the real world and develop people skills, and it made me realize the importance of role models,” says Bedon. “I try to make sure I’m an active role model for my two younger brothers.”

Armando Jimenez describes the program as a strong motivator. “Being selected into the program lets you know that someone believes in you,” says the Hartford native, who has been hired by Booz Allen Hamilton for a consulting position in Washington, D.C. He especially valued the networking opportunities he gained through summer internships with Travelers in Hartford and with Under Armour in Baltimore: “They gave me a much broader view of the kinds of careers that are available.”

Travelers EDGE scholar Ashley Gil said the program provided her with a sense of steady support. “Seanice [Austin] was available on campus, providing advice about courses and just getting to know us. It felt like someone was holding you accountable and providing you with opportunities to improve.”

Gil was able to study abroad as a Travelers EDGE Scholar, spending a semester in South Africa working for a non-governmental organization. “My work with high school students there helped me realize I wanted to go into counseling,” says Ashley, who begins a master’s degree program in educational counseling at UConn’s Neag School in the fall.