ASL then and now: WorkX
“What did you do on your summer vacation?” This most hallowed first-day-of-school question can invite the most traditional responses—a trip with family, sleepaway camp, and lifeguarding at the pool. For nearly 170 ASL juniors and seniors and recent graduates, however, their answers might surprise you.
“Conducted research with government publications.” “Attended a venture capital conference.” “Went to a session on financial law.” “Investigated Sri Lankan ivory pieces on display in London museums.” These students took part in ASL’s Work Experience (WorkX) program, a joint venture between the Office of Student Advising and the PCA WorkX Committee, where Eagles in Grades 10-12 apply and gain acceptance to professional placements across London.
The genesis of WorkX traces back to a former program offered in the mid-’80s, Senior Apprenticeships, in which a small group of Grade 12 students elected to do a part-time internship during their final semester of high school. Former HS Principal Clayton Lewis (ASL 1980-94) initiated Senior Apprenticeships as a way to combat the “senior slump” that often affects the listless, unmotivated students who have already made their post-ASL plans and are just biding their time until graduation. Joyce Anderson (ASL 1980-2012), a former math teacher who served as an apprentice advisor for several years, recalls that the program was highly selective; only seven or eight students qualified each year. “They needed to be self-motivated and self-sufficient,” Joyce explains. Internships were acquired largely through parent contacts, and students spent a few afternoons each week doing hands-on, practical work. Serving as an advisor was a particularly enjoyable experience for Joyce, who liaised with each student weekly and visited them on-site. “I learned a lot and gained access to so many fascinating, exciting things,” she shares. One student interested in art worked at a studio that made movie props and costumes—they had an early glimpse of Michael Keaton’s suit for Batman. Another advisee of hers, Chad Ruble ’89, was offered a summer job following his apprenticeship at NBC, where he assisted in the coverage of Wimbledon. “The access and opportunities students were given was remarkable,” she comments.
During her senior year, Kerry Ghais ’88 set up an apprenticeship at the Associated Press office, where she worked as a freelance photographer. The opportunity was a “turning point in her lifetime,” according to her interview in The Standard. Other students apprenticed at law firms, banks—even hospitals. Mike Nachmanoff ’87 landed a placement at the Hampstead Theater as a Grade 12 student, coaching actors on their American accents, spending time backstage and shadowing the house manager. The experience “made my senior year,” he reported back then. “I hope more students take advantage of these apprenticeship opportunities in the future.”
Mike’s wish came true. Today’s WorkX program serves nearly 170 students, providing teens with CV-writing and interview skills, a taste of workplace culture, and the chance to learn more about a field of interest as they prepare to choose majors, internships and pursuits for life post-ASL.
During summer 2023, more than 70 employers offered over 160 one- to three-week WorkX opportunities, which ranged from learning about corporate partnerships at Aston Villa Football Club to hands-on teaching at Wembley Primary School.
“Both of my WorkX programs were amazing,” lauds Maya ’24, who interned at BNP Paribas and the Courtauld Institute of Art. Eager to immerse herself in a professional environment, she spent time with the legal team at BNP, discovering how employees found their path to law, as well as helping her Courtauld Institute mentor research Asian art for the upcoming course she is teaching. “My mentors were so helpful,” she says. Her peers also have positive feedback to share: Thomas ’25 described his time at the London School of Economics as “fun,” while Soleil ’25 found her law firm placement at Ropes & Gray to be incredibly “interesting and productive.”
Maya’s mentor at BNP Paribas was alumna Nerisa Ahmed ’01, a senior solicitor who initiated and oversaw her company’s WorkX placement. One of five alumni and alumni parents involved with WorkX, Nerisa wanted to give back to her alma mater in a hands-on, meaningful way; volunteering for WorkX did precisely that. “It was very fulfilling to share my story and journey from student to professional,” explains Nerisa. “I enjoyed helping an ASL student explore a career path and contribute to their future choices.” Another bonus for Nerisa was getting to know Maya. “Everyone from BNP Paribas who met Maya was so impressed by how confident, eloquent and knowledgeable she was,” she praises. “Maya is a credit to ASL.”
Advisor and entrepreneur Gholam Bakhtiar ’91 is another alum who volunteered for WorkX this summer and found the experience to be similarly rewarding to Nerisa’s. A partner at the hedge fund Coleman Group, Gholam hosted six students at Coleman, where he managed their daily schedule and coordinated their time with employees across different divisions, from trading and sales to portfolio strategy and operations. “It was wonderful to meet a subset of ASL’s future alumni and offer them useful tips for growing their careers,” Gholam shares. “I vividly remember how unsure I was about my professional goals when I was at ASL, and WorkX is a great opportunity to help current ASLers navigate these choices that once confounded me.”
Driven by tireless volunteers such as Gholam, the WorkX program would not exist without the Herculean support of parents, past and present, who ensure its success every year. In 2018, Mousumi Chatterjee P ’20 ’25 started volunteering with the PCA WorkX Committee as a way to become more engaged with her son Ishaan Rahman ’20’s school community. Now chair of that committee, she is deeply invested in WorkX, partnering with university advisor Joanna Shearer (ASL 2020-present) to seek out new WorkX hosts within the ASL community and guide students through the application process. Her motivation comes from facilitating these meaningful connections that enable students to explore their interests outside of the classroom. “When my son applied to WorkX in Grade 10, I became curious about who was behind this unique ASL program and wanted to be a part of it,” Mousumi explains. “Through WorkX, students can spend a week or two in the summer working on diverse placements, from redesigning a London tube station, to researching the ESG impact of wind farms, to a sports charity fundraising campaign. Employers get to see their business through the eyes of the next generation. Our WorkX sponsors show such energy and enthusiasm in hosting ASL students; I am grateful for that, as well as for my fellow PCA WorkX Committee volunteers!”
Mousumi and other parents took the WorkX reins from a well-established enterprise that first got off the ground in 2008. Terry Mather P ’11 ’14 ’17 was one of a handful of parent pioneers who helped launch WorkX in those early years. Joining ASL with her family in 2009, Terry recalls attending a working lunch with veteran moms Terrie Burke P ’10 ’12 ’15, Bonnie Bandeen P ’07 ’11 ’12 ’17, Mary Edgerton-Long P ’09 ’11 and Becky Lindon P ’06 ’07 ’12, who were looking to drum up more muscle for the fledgling WorkX program. Soon, she was promoting WorkX at high school meetings and assemblies, encouraging students to apply to one of the five companies offering placements. “The students got me completely hooked on the program,” Terry remembers. “They asked all the right questions and were earnestly dedicated to getting it right.” Things evolved quickly; Terry and other volunteers began working with college counselors to match the right student to each organization with careful consideration. “Within two years, 30 companies were hosting ASL WorkX students,” she says. WorkX expanded in other ways too, from hosting guest speakers to creating a website with application resources. A presentation from the chief risk officer of British Petroleum to high schoolers resulted in a lively debate about the future of fossil fuels, for instance, and students were relieved to know that big oil companies were heavily investing in green alternative energy.
For employees and students alike, the perks of participating were mutually beneficial. “Companies with no links to ASL started to approach us about their interest in offering student placements,” says Terry. “Our students helped the School earn a terrific reputation for providing organizations with enthusiastic, trustworthy and reliable candidates.” In turn, students gained transformative confidence and networking skills that they could transfer to university and beyond. Terry explains, “I received emails from students years later just to say thank you. Students shared how they were light years ahead of their peers when they started applying for jobs, and some were pursuing careers based on a WorkX placement they enjoyed.”
Thanks to the efforts of Enid Prasad P ’15 ’17 and parent volunteers who followed in Terry’s formidable footsteps, WorkX became fully integrated with the office of student advising and enjoyed significant growth. Between 2015 and 2019, student participation jumped from under 80 applicants and 50 employers to more than 120 students working in placements at 80 companies. “WorkX is so uniquely ASL,” marvels parent of alumni Barbara Kim P ’21 ’22, who helped oversee the program during her daughters’ high school tenure. “It’s a mix of American thinking around liberal arts with the UK work experience culture, made possible by ASL parents and alumni who are so generous with their time and commitment.” Barbara was pleased that she was taking over a well-oiled machine when she came to the WorkX helm and, four years later, still feels gratitude for how volunteers found a way to move the program online when COVID hit—as well as for the work Mousumi Chatterjee has invested in rebuilding it post-pandemic. “What we are giving these students is a chance to apply skills gained in high school to the working world,” Barbara explains. “CV and cover letter writing, interview practice and business etiquette are timeless tools everyone needs to utilize at some stage. Thanks to WorkX, ASL students learn them early with industry experts and experienced advisors who care deeply about their success.”
Reflecting on his involvement with WorkX, Gholam sums it up best. “It was such a fun and valuable experience for both the students and the team here at Colman,” he enthuses. “I hope that more parents, alumni and other members of the community continue to grow this incredible program.”