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A corporate mind is a terrible thing to waste, and the Markel Corp.'s Partnership for the Future is thinking big, partnering students of limited resources with corporate leaders, while enrolling those same students in college-prep and personal-development classes. The successes have been unique and prolific.

As of summer 2005, 300 students - including three currently enrolled at Old Dominion University - have participated in Partnership for the Future (PFF), based in Glen Allen, Va.

PFF is a two-year college preparatory and youth employment program spanning three consecutive summers and two academic years. Participants from PFF's partner high schools apply as 10th-graders and begin the program the following summer.

The flagship program is a seven-week summer session, during which participants work four days per week with one of PFF's business sponsors and spend the fifth day in personal-development classes. During the academic year, PFF students participate in workshops two to four times per month, meet with PFF staff for individual mentoring and have the opportunity to participate in overnight college visits.

"Partnership for the Future took me to a new level in a way I didn't expect," said Deborah Smith, an ODU freshman studying to be an anesthesiologist. Smith, who had a 3.94 grade point average at George Wythe High School in Richmond, was featured as one of Ebony magazine's Top Black High School Students (June 2005).

She was placed in the customer service and deli departments at Ukrop's Supermarkets in Richmond. Dealing with the general public daily, she was forced to overcome her painful shyness that had always hampered her ability to interview well.

"Now I ask more questions in class too," Smith said. "At first I didn't understand the placement, but it's funny how different I am now. I'm not all scared about opening my mouth or about being more aggressive. It is a big change for the better."

"We're getting more sophisticated about the placements," said Maureen Denlea, executive director of PFF and community relations director for the Richmond-based Markel Corp. "I like putting people together. It's like a puzzle."

ODU President Roseann Runte said of PFF, "Education is the most important gift we can give to America's children. The Partnership for the Future program makes university-level education accessible for students who have demonstrated their ability and their commitment to learning. Corporate leaders offer excellent role models and can truly inspire the next generation to strive for success through education. This program is a wonderful combination of talent and experience, which opens doors for the future."

ODU freshman Willie Brinkley, of Highland Springs High School near Richmond, was also a PFF student. He was partnered with Capital One Services Inc. for three years as an intern/assistant.

"It was just what I needed going into the computer field because I got to see how the real-world workplace works from the inside," Brinkley said. "I even got to make presentations. I wasn't just getting coffee like you hear of other interns doing."

Alan Kirshner, chairman and CEO of Markel Corp., created Partnership for the Future in 1994 after being moved by a Wall Street Journal story about Cedric Jennings, an inner-city teenager in Washington, D.C. Jennings' life dream was to attend an Ivy League university. After completing a summer college-prep program at an Ivy League institution, Jennings was told that he was not a good fit. He was not turned away because of his academic preparation, but because he did not have the cultural tools the university deemed necessary for Ivy League success.

The article inspired Kirshner and several business, government and education leaders in Richmond to create a program for students like Jennings to gain exposure to new environments, to experience the benefits of the private-enterprise system, to save for college, and to access relationships and opportunities previously closed to them. PFF continues to operate in Richmond and in 2002 opened an office in Chicago.

More than 150 students have successfully completed the PFF program. Eighty-three percent of the students who started the program have completed it successfully, and 98 percent who completed it have matriculated to post-secondary educational programs.

PFF anticipates serving 170 students from the metropolitan Richmond area in 2005-06, the largest group to date.

For more information about Partnership for the Future, visit the PFF Web site at http://www.partnershipforthefuture.org.

This article was posted on: March 13, 2006

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