Students and shopkeepers finalize work as the WIR’ED initiative nears completion
CLEVELAND – Nick Semertsidis knows his way around technology. As a restaurant owner, Semertsidis wears a lot of hats. But he also knows the value of good work when he sees it, and he knew the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown would present a unique set of challenges for shopkeepers like him.
That’s why Semertsidis, owner of Gus’s Old Brooklyn Family Restaurant, applied for a spot in the WIR’ED initiative, a program pairing students and marketing professionals with business owners to improve the businesses’ online presence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conceived in March 2020 by NeoSTEM, with support from others, WIR’ED seeks to respond to the needs of brick-and-mortar businesses with little or no online presence struggling to operate in the increasingly socially distanced and online world triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. WIR’ED teams gathered online each week from January through March to discuss their work, learn new skills, and utilize content creation tools.
With the help of his team – Stacy Hernandez, a student at Garrett Morgan School of Engineering & Innovation, and Kimberly Rodriguez, a student at Facing History New Tech High School, Arianette Roman-Nunez, a student at Garrett Morgan, and Siddhartha Sen, an operations research analyst for the Veale Foundation – Semertsidis developed new social media content to promote the restaurant. And Semertsidis loved his team.
“I think this is an incredible project that we did,” Semertsidis said. “The team did a great job keeping up with my crazy schedule, and I’m very proud of how they kept up on things. They definitely opened my eyes to a lot of things in regards to technology. And I think they were able to learn some of the things I was able to teach them as well.”
The students paired with Semertsidis were no less excited about their work.
“Working together in a group, we learned so much from each other, and we did so much together,” Sutton said.
Roman-Nunez echoed Sutton’s sentiment.
“I learned how to be patient and persevere,” Roman-Nunez said. “As a business owner, they have many things going on at one time. And basically, we’re here to make them busy. The program opened my eyes to how business work and how they run.”
Semertsidis said he hopes his team keeps up its work, even though the program has ended. “I’m hoping to work with them again in the future on things, and if I can help them in any way, I’d love to be able to do that as well,” he said.
Excitement was common among the shopkeepers who participated in the initiative.
Constance Ewasen, president of the Historical Society of Old Brooklyn, said of Ryckia Sutton, her team’s leader, “She’s a very bright young lady, and she’s very able to work with different people of all ages.”
Sutton, a student at the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine, developed a new logo for the historical society and helped Ewasen begin to move its collection online.
“[Sutton] created something that’s really awesome,” Ewasen said. “I just wish there were more people like her. I wonder how we could get more young people involved in doing something like this – 10 more Ryckias, that’s what we need.”
|New Experiences, New Voices: Students Describe Experiences in WIR’ED|
|“I learned how to be more patient.”
~ Jalecia Claytor, Shaw High School
|“I learned that people tend to think that businesses don’t do a lot, but if you work with them, you figure out that they have a lot of things they have to do. You have to be patient, and work with other people’s schedules, and you have to get work done when it needs to be done.”
~ Shiane Clark, James Ford Rhodes High School
|“The experience was fun for me because I didn’t really know much about the program, and learning about it was pretty cool. Using Canva was very eye-opening for me, because I never used it before. And working with [my teammate] was an amazing thing, too. She was an amazing partner.”
~ Nevaeh Hagens, Shaw High School
|“I’ve learned a lot through this program. A big thing that I learned was how to ask questions. I definitely learned how to ask questions when you’re interviewing.”
~ Kayla Brown, Facing History New Tech High School
|“The first thing that I learned, that this has helped to clarify for me, is that I want business to be a part of my life.” “I learned I can use my creative mind, how to use my creative self.” ‘It’s good to share ideas with people.”
~ Moises Tuyas, Cleveland School of the Arts
“Joining this program taught me so much. Be patient. Get your work done on time. Just be there for each other and work together in order for it to work out for you, and keep on trying, and don’t give up. From here on out, I want to focus on graduating and getting a new place for me and my kid. But this [business ownership] is what I want to do.”
~ Halima Mohamed, Lincoln-West School of Science and Health
WIR’ED’s first pilot program ran in Spring 2020, to great success, and its second pilot program has now concluded. NeoSTEM ecosystem partners will continue to expand the program with a third pilot in Summer and Fall 2021. By harnessing the talent of northeast Ohio’s students for the benefit of its businesses, WIR’ED continues to provide sustainable solutions to the problems it faces.
For more information, contact Alyssa Lenhoff-Briggs at firstname.lastname@example.org.