Alumni Spotlight: Roland Selby Jr., Year Up
Year Up is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the Opportunity Divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. Founded in 2000, Year Up provides a top support and expectation model that combines marketable job skills, stipends, internships, and college credits. The organization stimulates students’ professional and personal development to place young adults on a viable path to economic self-sufficiency. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership spoke with alumnus Roland Selby Jr., National Site Director – Southeast Region and Executive Director at Year Up Baltimore, about his experiences working in the nonprofit sector and his time in CPNL’s Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program, where he was a recipient of a Wells Fargo Fellowship.
Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership (CPNL): Why did you want to work in the nonprofit sector?
SELBY: Previously, I was working for IBM Global Business Services, a service technology integration organization, as a managing consultant. I later received a phone call in regards to an opportunity to lead the nonprofit organization, Year Up. I was not looking to get into the nonprofit sector, but what attracted me and what has retained me is the fact that we are serving people. It is mission-oriented and dedicated to what the community wants, where before, shareholders may have been the primary concern of an organization or delivering to specific service level agreements. Now, my work is impacting lives, and I sincerely believe what I do is extremely meaningful and essential.
CPNL: Tell us about your work at Year Up.
SELBY: Year Up is a national nonprofit, and our goal is to connect motivated young adults with employers who have open entry-level jobs that they are experiencing difficulty filling. All of the students that we serve are either underemployed, unemployed or were unable to complete their college degree due to external issues. However, they all want to enter the workforce. We work with this particular segment of the population to provide them the skill sets that they need to be considered desired applicants and employees. Sometimes, companies have difficulty filling entry-level positions because they are not looking at our students as a potential pipeline or talent pool, while our students are not aware of these job openings. Year Up is the intermediary and we help connect the two sides so our students can find new opportunities to thrive. My primary role is to be the market leader in Baltimore, where I cultivate relationships with potential donors, foundations in the area, and elected officials. I am the face of Year Up and in charge of raising funds and recruiting staff members and new students. I also work with my team to deepen relationships within the corporate community so that our students can have internship opportunities. I was recently promoted from Executive Director to Regional Director of the Southeastern Region of Year Up.
CPNL: What is the most fulfilling part of your current role?
SELBY: The most fulfilling part of my role is seeing the success of the students because I know how hard they work. Our students report to us at 8:15 am every morning, Monday through Friday, for six months. They put the work in, and if they are late or are absent, they earn infractions. We have a contract system, and if someone receives a certain number of infractions, the person fires himself or herself. What is fulfilling to me is seeing these young people come in, work, and be successful. We graduate about 75% of the students that we start with. I want that number to be higher, but we are on target, and there are several reasons why people do not complete the program, whether it is health-related issues or time constraints. What I try to do is work with my team to identify all the appropriate behaviors and qualities that we look for in a potential candidate for our program. From there, we make sure that we do everything we can as leaders to develop the skills of these young adults so they are ready to work at internships and apply the knowledge they attained to open new doors for themselves.
CPNL: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
SELBY: In the nonprofit work, I wear two hats. I run the Baltimore market, but I am also responsible for all the programs in the Southeast region, which stems from Maryland to Florida. Two of the accomplishments I am most proud of include growing the program in Baltimore from serving only 80 students a year to 240 students. We are preparing to grow again to serve 320 students, which is a huge jump. We are also opening up new markets in the Southeast region, such as Tampa Bay, Florida, and Charlotte, North Carolina, which are on board with creating this new resource for their communities.
CPNL: What was your biggest takeaway from the Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate program?
SELBY: My biggest takeaway from the program was the importance of understanding the key areas of a nonprofit, such as storytelling, fundraising, leading people, and understanding the history of nonprofits, which resonated with me. It helped put things into perspective and proper context. Also, forging relationships with the people that I met at the certificate program was very significant to me. I still keep in contact with many of them today! I was able to hire one of my fellow alumni in a sales role in the Virginia market for my organization. The certificate program did everything that it was supposed to do – learning, creating a network, and developing more skillsets for nonprofit work.
CPNL: How did the certificate program challenge you?
SELBY: The challenge I faced in the program was learning all the material provided to us in a short period of time. We had a lot of reading assignments and activities that pushed us to think differently about our work, such as the way we do business. I was a part of the summer cohort, and we were able to focus and knock out all the information provided to us in eight consecutive days. They were long hours, but I am incredibly grateful for it and everything that I have learned.
CPNL: How has the Certificate Program helped you in your career?
SELBY: It helped me develop the appropriate mindset to learn and gain the information to push my organization forward. I reached out to one of the instructors for our fundraising piece in the certificate program and created a relationship with her where we work on a contractual basis. The instructor who taught us the importance of storytelling motivated me to conduct more research on telling stories. It is a very vital skill to have in the fundraising environment, especially when we are looking for funders and other corporate partners. By telling a compelling story, not only are we able to share facts and data, but also attract the hearts and minds of others.
CPNL: What advice would you give to other professionals who are considering participating in the Certificate Program?
SELBY: Be open and be willing to do the work and the readings. Be open to meeting new people and learning not only from an academic perspective but also from each other. I advise people to be comfortable being vulnerable, for that’s how we attain the most knowledge and connect with others. It was very insightful to learn from other nonprofit leaders or volunteers about the business models and transferable best practices they were using. It was the information sharing and relationship building that was amazing and impactful to me, and I hope others will have that same experience and takeaways from the program as well.
This article has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.