Creating pathways of change at Johnson College Prep

“What is your why?”

It’s a small, simple question that has big implications. Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you make the decisions you make? Why do you do what you do? The answer is different for everyone. And it doesn’t really matter what your “why” is—what matters is that you identify it for yourself.

Now think about if you could have identified your “why” when you were a teenager.

This was the main question Jen Mahone Rightler, Epsilon’s senior vice president of global diversity, equity & inclusion and corporate social responsibility, posed to a group of sophomores and juniors at Johnson College Prep (JCP), part of the Noble Schools network, in Chicago, as she announced Epsilon’s new fellowship program with the school.

“Why are you coming to school every day? Why do you keep coming back?” she asked the students. “Because there are many kids that don’t come back, and I’m sure many of you know some of those kids that don’t. I want you to think about this because the opportunity we’re creating for you requires you to think about what your ‘why’ is.”

And many of the students could answer their “why.” Some said they wanted to have a good job; some said they wanted to go to college; some said they just wanted to graduate high school. There were many clear “whys” in a room of young people—they knew where they wanted to go and were figuring out how to actually get there.

Which is where we’re offering a new path: The Epsilon Fellows Immersion Program.

Our team was at JCP to announce a new fellowship program for high school juniors and seniors to work for Epsilon and earn a salary while also banking the same amount for a college or post-high school fund: 

  • The program is a paid apprenticeship with a weekly schedule of six hours. But what’s unique here is that the students will also have the equivalent of their weekly salary deposited into a savings account and set aside as a scholarship upon successful graduation of the program. They are not only earning an income, but they’re also banking that same amount for after graduation.
  • Students will be able to explore potential career paths in a large enterprise-level business, in addition to covering topics like business fundamentals, dimensions and roles of leadership, strategic planning and conflict resolution and employee recognition.
  • The program is available to students who will be juniors or seniors at JCP starting with the 2022-2023 school year, and the program will go from early September to the end of May (typical school schedule).
  • Students get to work virtually from Johnson College Prep (alleviating transit concerns), and there will be an on-site supervisor from Epsilon to provide program support during student work hours.
  • Students will have access to a life coach, mentors and Epsilon leadership throughout the program. At the end of each year, students will complete a capstone project to showcase their learnings.
  • Juniors can continue the program for their senior year, making their full tenure two years as Epsilon employees.



The work exposure and experience are critical for anyone learning about joining the workforce. But when our team thinks about corporate social responsibility, the focus is on developing programs that create cycles of change for our people, communities and clients, which is exactly what the fellowship program is intended to do:

  • Directly impact students and their families: In contrast to donating to the school or a larger fund, this fellowship program puts dollars directly into the hands of students and their families—both for the near and long-term. Mahone Rightler said about the program: “This partnership is a real opportunity for the students at Johnson College Prep. Creating cycles of change is about breaking the generational inequities in our marginalized communities. We have to offer real opportunities that our children can see for themselves, where they can create a future based on a vision with real tangible outcomes that will allow them to build equity and wealth for themselves making real money and giving them skillsets that cannot be taken away from them. If a student is in the program for their junior and senior year, that’s two years of a regular paycheck and two years of that same amount as savings in the bank. This can be life-changing for students and families that may not have thought it possible to ever see an opportunity for post-secondary education or to pay for expenses.”
  • Create new opportunities for people in our community: Epsilon has a big presence in Chicago, with many employees and leaders in the area. But we’re located downtown (like most companies), and it can be difficult to reach communities that are only a few miles away. Myron Sojka, Epsilon’s chief technology officer, said: “We wanted to reach kids in our own backyard that would normally not have an opportunity to come and work at Epsilon, simply because they don’t see us. We’re looking at building the next generation of technology leaders and employees—looking at how they fill in and bring new ideas forward while also giving back to our community.”
  • Offer career opportunities through real-world experience: A big focus of the program is helping students understand just how many opportunities are available at larger companies like Epsilon—because we don’t just hire marketers and advertisers. Cathy Lang, president of Epsilon Automotive, said it best: “If you like art, I hire graphic designers. If you like to write, I hire writers every day. If you like math, we have data scientists and programmers that turn data into marketing messages. And for those that like to work with their hands, we have a print facility where our employees turn the design, copy and data scientists’ work into a physical product that we send to people. There are jobs at Epsilon that allow you to do what you love if you understand the opportunity.”
  • Build a workforce as diverse as consumers: The marketing industry has come to an inflection point in the past few years where we understand that the only way to resonate with consumers is to have the team building those messages be just as diverse as consumers are. Our work with JCP creates a pipeline to ensure diversity is front-and-center in every department across the company. Wayne Townsend, Epsilon’s chief strategic growth officer, said, “Diversity of talent is critical. What we really need are people that understand what our clients’ customers want, how they want it and how they want to be talked to. And that requires all kinds of diverse talent at every level of the organization. It’s about ensuring a broader perspective is accounted for in every conversation across the company.”

We can talk about the “why” all day, but the challenge comes when the rubber meets the road: How will you actually get there? The students at JCP started that day with their “why,” but now, through Epsilon’s fellowship program, they also have a “how.”