BULLS Academy addresses education-to-career pipeline in Durham

Students in the BULLS Life Sciences Academy work in a lab setting at Durham Technical Community College. Photo courtesy of NC Biotechnology Center.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

By Maya Waid

As Community Engagement Coordinator, Steven Cannady spends a lot of his time recruiting for Made in Durham, a civic and social organization that started in 2014 to help people transition from an education to a long-term career in the area.

However, his primary focus is on finding candidates for the BULLS Life Sciences Academy.

“The BULLS program is really just giving opportunities and assets to students and young adults in Durham, who might not even know about the types of jobs that are in the industry,” Cannady said. 

Dominique Oliver has worked for Made in Durham for the past six years and helped to launch BULLS in 2020. Since then, Oliver has become the Director of Community Partnerships, where he feels like he is part of a team that “gets to champion champions.”

“A lot of my time is spent kind of working with other community based organizations and educational partners to advise on some of the things that they’re doing and look at the issues around gaps and barriers that may be in our education and career system,” Oliver said. 

In total, the BULLS program takes 17 weeks to complete. As an extra incentive for students and young adults who are enrolled in the program, each participant is eligible for $10,000 in living expenses as they complete requirements.

Damon Sanders, a May, 2023 BULLS graduate, entered the program after losing his job in Durham. When he started the program, his primary focus was earning the monthly stipends to help support himself without another income source. 

However, as he continued in the program, Sanders realized that over the next five months, he could gain much more than just a payout. This was especially important to him because during his own education, Sanders did not feel like he had received the right level of support to succeed.

“In the program you have your mentor, leadership coaches, teachers who are talking with you pretty much every day. They gave us laptops for people that didn’t have laptops and even access to a food pantry, Sanders said. “They were there for you inside and outside the classroom.”

Currently, Cannady is working on recruiting individuals for the ninth cohort of the BULLS program which opens on May 1 with a July 5 deadline. 

Since he gets to see the participants on both ends of the program, Cannady has a special connection once he sees them graduate and accept new positions. 

“It makes me feel good that they actually did succeed,” Cannady said. “Some students who were working two or three jobs now have a stable income and a stable job and benefits. So to see just the transformation of their life is a good feeling.”

In his time with the organization, Oliver has seen a tremendous amount of growth in interest. On a daily basis, he works to make sure that Made in Durham has the best community partners to help them reach their goals. 

Oliver has seen a significant impact from BULLS graduates, including with Sanders and his work since finishing with BULLS. 

“We have a lot of our young people like Damon, who are extremely successful,” Oliver said. “Not only are they able to have a job and go to work but they’re able to do things like interviews and community forums to open other doors.”

In the future, both Oliver and Cannady hope to see the BULLS program recognized at a higher level to increase funding and awareness for the program. That way, BULLS can expand into other career fields and help direct and educate people to get those jobs as well. 

Now, Sanders serves as a BULLS alumni ambassador and works to direct other people towards the program. 

After his graduation from BULLS almost a year ago, Sanders accepted a position at Novo Nordisk as a Manufacturing Operator thanks to both the technical and networking skills he learned in BULLS. 

“This program is important because there are people out there that do need a second chance in life or just an opportunity, or an extra hand,” Sanders said. “A lot of people from Durham come from unstable households or maybe something just went wrong. This is an alternative route for people who have been in those situations.”

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