Adria Toliver Lemelle, human resources manager at Frito-Lay, grew up in Southern Dallas and helped lead the Frito-Lay headquarters event that mentored nearly 50 high school students from Southern Dallas-area high schools.

As part of the Southern Dallas Thrives initiative, Frito-Lay mentors are opening students’ eyes to career possibilities and unlocking their true potential

by Ginni Beam, Special Contributor | April 25, 2019

Through tutoring and mentoring efforts, Frito-Lay is helping prepare Southern Dallas high school students to be successful in college and in future careers. With a large workforce located in Southern Dallas, Frito-Lay has good reason to support the strength of the Southern Dallas community. At the heart of this continued investment, though, is the students themselves — young adults like Ashawnti Black.

A senior at Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, Black had never even considered marketing as a potential career path until she attended an open house event at the Frito-Lay campus in Plano. The annual day-long event, hosted and planned by Frito-Lay’s African-American employee resource group Mosaic, immerses students in the company’s culture so they can see what it’s like to work at a large company like Frito-Lay. Students hear from associates in departments like IT, Finance, Engineering, Sales, Marketing and Research & Development, and learn about the potential careers and majors that could aid them if they choose to pursue those careers.

Mosaic has invited Southern Dallas students to these open house events for the past three years — first college students, and now high school juniors and seniors. Nearly 50 high school students from five Southern Dallas-area high schools — Skyline High School, Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, South Oak Cliff Collegiate Academy, Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center, and Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School — attended this year’s event.

“I came to Frito-Lay and saw marketing as a potential career path and I did not know that existed at all before,” says Ashawnti Black. “I’ve since decided that marketing will be my major and global business my minor. This event shows attendees a corporate level we did not think we could get to. I came here last year thinking I wanted to do something in the medical field, and left realizing marketing was the option for me.”

Preparing students for successful futures is certainly a goal of these events, but just as important is exposing them to possibilities that they might never have otherwise dreamed. “My students […] don’t have programs like this in their lives,” says Laverne Brown, the department chair of technology careers and technology education at Skyline High School. Brown was an attending chaperone at the Mosaic open house.

“The educational system does not introduce them to the actual careers they could pursue. We try to teach the skills, but the skills need to correlate to what the job consists of. The reason why I love this event is the students get to see actual people working in positions, to see what is required for those positions, and to see the flexibility and growth they can have in those positions. What I want students to walk away with from this event is that there are opportunities out there that they need to pursue.”

Southern Dallas students face daunting odds. More than 90 percent are disadvantaged, and over 45 percent of Southern Dallas children are not kindergarten-ready. The unemployment rate in Southern Dallas is more than triple that of the Dallas-Fort Worth average, and nearly 30 percent of residents there live in poverty. With help from United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, PepsiCo and Frito-Lay launched the Southern Dallas Thrives initiative to create new opportunities across generations and build a stronger city.

For many Frito-Lay employees, this mission is personal. Of the nearly 6,500 PepsiCo employees in the D-FW area, almost 25 percent live in or near Southern Dallas. Many also grew up there, like human resources manager Adria Toliver Lemelle, who helped lead planning for the open house and for Frito-Lay’s Black History Month activities in February.

“There is a special part of me that is connected to [the Southern Dallas Thrives] initiative,” Toliver says. “I grew up in what’s considered Southern Dallas in Oak Cliff and went to one of the schools where the students who visited Frito-Lay are from, [Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center]. It’s important for me to do my part so these students can reach their full potential and get to amazing careers like I have, and like we have all across PepsiCo.”

One of the key goals of Southern Dallas Thrives over the next three to five years is to help 85 percent of South Oak Cliff High School students graduate college or prepare for a career through tutoring and mentoring at South Oak Cliff Collegiate Academy in Southern Dallas. Frito-Lay associates regularly visit the Academy to show students potential career paths based on their school interests, coach them on how to prepare for and make a good impression in an interview, and more. Frito-Lay works closely with South Oak Cliff Collegiate Academy to ensure the materials presented to the students are as beneficial and relevant to them as possible.

And hardworking Southern Dallas students like Ashawnti Black can have promising futures. “There’s always room at the top for those that work hard and keep it moving,” says William Langford, vice president, warehouse, eCommerce and new business sales at Frito-Lay, who has been an executive across various PepsiCo divisions for 19 years. Langford shared career advice with students at the Mosaic open house event. “Don’t think it’s going to be easy; as you’re moving in the right direction, people will help you to move further. Don’t stop because it’s hard. Keep going because it’s hard.”

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