PwC Learns a few Lessons From Cristo Rey Students

Cheryl Hagan

In July 2015, Cristo Rey Dallas welcomed its first freshman class. Located in the Pleasant Grove area of Southeast Dallas, the new high school exclusively serves students living near or below the federal poverty line. It is the first Cristo Rey Network high school to open in Dallas. Spanning 19 states, the Cristo Rey Network consists of 30 Catholic high schools that impact nearly 20,000 low-income students.

As Market Administrative Leader for PwC’s North Texas Market, Cheryl Hagan oversees the Dallas office’s partnership with Cristo Rey Dallas’ corporate work-study program. The unique component of Cristo Rey’s educational model trains each of its students for a professional environment over the summer and then places them with corporate partners like PwC. Each of the school’s 126 students works for a full day, five times a month. In addition to gaining early experiences in a professional setting, part of the student’s tuition is paid by corporate partners like PwC in exchange for their work.

When we spoke with Hagan, it was clear that managing PwC’s corporate partnership with Cristo Rey was more than just one aspect of her job. For Hagan, who will celebrate her 10th anniversary with PwC this January, it’s about giving back to Dallas Fort-Worth.

Read on for Hagan’s firsthand account of Cristo Rey Dallas’ corporate work-study program, how PwC is going above and beyond to develop its students’ financial literacy, and for her thoughts about how the partnership is helping prepare today’s students to become tomorrow’s professional and civic leaders. And in case you haven’t already, be sure to read our full story on Cristo Rey Dallas’ corporate work-study program here.

PK: What did PwC look for in potential work-study students and what skills is your firm helping them develop?

CH: Cristo Rey has done a great job preparing their students with training curriculum to give them a jump-start to being effective in the workplace as they start their work-study program. PwC’s business is based on forming strong relationships and adding value to our clients. We asked for students that were outgoing, critical thinkers, and were interested in continuous learning.

PK: What do the students’ typical workday look like when they are at PwC?

CH: The students spend one day a week at PwC and are responsible for a variety of activities such as scanning records and documents, copying, and assisting with event planning administrative activities. They have also been involved in assisting our HR department with a variety of tasks.

We also provide learning opportunities every day for our students. We provide online soft skill training and have extended our Earn Your Future curriculum on financial literacy to our work-study students. We have two volunteers who oversee this program and serve as shadow mentors for our Cristo Rey students, Joel Francia [experienced tax associate] and Caty Lively [senior tax associate], who coordinate the volunteers.

One of the popular topics that our volunteers have taught in these past few weeks is how to pay for college. Even though the students are still in their freshman year, we point out that it’s never too early to plan for higher education. In addition to school, we’ve also taught lessons on insurance, saving, and risk. These may not be typical lessons to teach first-year high school students, but we believe they are more prepared for life having this exposure.

PK: We enjoyed meeting Cristo Rey Dallas freshman Martin Najera-Vega during our visit to PwC. What type of growth have you seen in Martin since he began his corporate work-study work at PwC?

CH: We have seen Martin steadily grow over time from being a bit apprehensive in the work environment to having confidence in his ability to interact with others. Martin receives day-to-day real time feedback and coaching from his supervisor in the work-study program, Linda Johnson. Linda truly enjoys making a difference in the lives of our students and knows that her efforts are mutually rewarding.

Read about Martin’s Cristo Rey Dallas experience here.


PK: How do you believe this program is contributing to DFW as a hub for innovation today, tomorrow, and five years from now?

CH: This program enables students to learn real life working skills on the job in a supportive business environment. This allows them to gain perspective on what skills are needed today, tomorrow, and in the future. This will provide the knowledge and confidence needed for them to make a meaningful contribution to their chosen careers and to society in the future.

PK: What has PwC learned from this work-study program?

CH: We have learned a great deal in a few short months. First, we feel the strong partnership commitment from Cristo Rey and the leaders of the work-study program will ensure the success of this program. We have learned that bringing students into the work place can increase awareness and learnings for all of us. As one example, one of the students mentioned that she was not used to sitting all day long and that she took breaks to stand and stretch throughout the day to help her think better about the work she was doing. As adults in the workforce, we should be doing the same thing. Somewhere along the way, some of us have forgotten this. There is much to be learned and there is great reward for each of us at PwC for paying forward and giving back to our community and to the lives of these students.

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