Amy Viettry learned at a young age that she’d have to largely rely on herself and her own determination if she were to blaze a trail in corporate life, and indeed life itself.
“My parents came here to America to create opportunity for me,” the T-Mobile Senior Program Manager says, “and they’ve pushed me to be successful on my own because they knew they couldn’t line up all the ducks for me.”
As the daughter of refugee immigrants from Vietnam, Amy said the language barrier was just one of many obstacles that put a lot of the responsibility on her shoulders when it came to her schooling — and impacted her career ambitions.
Yet, she’s never lost sight of the sacrifices her parents made by creating a life for her in America. Today, with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in her pocket, she is committed to trailblazing a way for others like her to succeed by leading a company program aimed at high school students looking for support with their STEM career and education goals.
“We talk about networking all the time and it’s hard when you have to start with zero network,” she explains. “I don’t have parents who can say I know someone at this college to meet with you or someone at a company I can get you an interview with. I come from a low-income family that’s supporting me and my three siblings. I couldn’t afford college, so I started working right away at 18.”
The T-Mobile Explorer Prep Program follows the company’s goal of hiring diverse early career talent in STEM fields. During the two 8-week summer internships, students can earn a professional certificate in their field of interest while gaining on the job experience.
After completing the program, students are eligible to apply for a full-time employment development role that unlocks tuition assistance for higher education. The program also provides a pathway for students to pursue higher education.
For Amy, as T-Mobile's first program manager for the Explorer Prep Program, this presents a unique opportunity for high school students to jumpstart their careers in technology.
The conventional pathway into a career after completing high school and then college, Amy explains, isn’t always the most accessible or equitable path. For her, the chance to explore an alternative was exactly what she needed to succeed and what others like her deserve.
“There are so many students that might be the first to try to go to college or who come from households that can't afford to pay for college and are fearful of going into debt from hefty student loans,” she says. “This program is there to support them. For me, this is obviously very close to my heart. I’m living proof this can work, even if it is untraditional.”
While the Explorer Prep program is currently offered at select partner schools in the Seattle and Kansas City areas, close to T-Mobile’s two headquarters, Amy hopes its early success will expand its reach to more students in need.
We spoke with Amy about how the Explorer Prep Program works and how she is using her experiences to inform its optimal inclusivity. We also spoke to one student enrolled in the program who says Amy’s story inspired her to pursue her dreams of a career in STEM.
Can you tell us a little about how growing up the child of immigrant parents has impacted you and your career choice?
My mom is Chinese and my dad is Vietnamese. Both were living in Vietnam and came over as refugees from the Vietnam War. I grew up in a low-income neighborhood, but I went to school in an affluent white neighborhood. My dad was the only source of income and worked seven days a week to provide for me and my three siblings while my mom took care of us at home. I’m so grateful because they never made me feel less privileged. I never felt like I didn't have money, I just knew that there were things that I couldn't have that other kids could.
School was a challenge because I had to do a lot of things on my own that I saw others’ parents were handling for them. I had to fill out my own FAFSA and see school counselors and get school documents to register myself for things. I’d have to comprehend it all and explain it to them. There were so many kids out there I felt that had more support and connections when it came to getting into colleges. It’s just about knowing people who can help!
I didn’t get my bachelor’s degree until 10 years after I graduated high school. I knew my family couldn’t afford college, especially if it was just in the hopes of figuring out what exactly I wanted to do next. I started working right away at 18 knowing that my family wouldn't be able to continue supporting me. I got a job at T-Mobile in 2012. Fast forward to 2016 and I asked myself, “Why am I not taking advantage of this tuition assistance that my company's offering?” So, I enrolled into tuition assistance and I got my bachelor’s degree in 2020.
Immediately after getting my bachelor’s degree, I enrolled in my master’s and have just graduated! It was a great opportunity for me to be able to get something later because our company offered that help. It’s one reason why The Explorer Prep Program is so close to my heart. I’m living proof this can work, even if it is untraditional.
Can you explain how the Explorer Prep Program works?
The program started in 2020 and it’s a two-consecutive summer experience program for high school students who are interested in pursuing a career in STEM. We’re starting at the high school level and it’s a great way for us to really help provide students the exposure that they’re looking for in the industry to get their minds thinking sooner. When you think back to high school, many remember having no idea what they wanted to do but they’re applying to a four-year university anyways and paying for general education classes. Students often switch majors and have no idea what a career in the field they’re pinpointing even looks like. This program caters to both the students that don’t know what they want to do and also to the students that know exactly what they want to do. Our targeted audience is simply students that might not have the means to go to college and that’s where that diversity comes in. It’s inclusive of everyone.
There are three fields that we’re looking for: software engineers, cyber security engineers and user experience designers. We’re looking to be able to build a pipeline of diverse, top talent at a younger age than college level. They join the summer of their junior year and the summer after they graduate high school. The application process goes through the schools, and my school partners review those applications and send to our recruiters, who then select 30 student candidates to come in May for what we call the Manager Match Event, which is set up like an interview. It’s all in conjunction with local colleges for them to get a two-year certification in the career track that they want to go into. And they’re paid during it all. The program is small right now with Seattle Public Schools, Edmonds School District and Kansas City Public Schools, but there’s hopes of building it out with more partner schools.
Why is this program an important disruption to the status quo when it comes to the usual paths to education and career in your opinion?
It’s an untraditional way to get into a career because it’s kind of the reverse. The traditional route is you go to high school, you do a four-year university, you get into a college internship and you cross your fingers that you’ll get a career out of it, right? This way is flipped around. You start taking college courses your senior year in high school and you start doing internships your high school summers. But it’s actually so much more focused than an internship. It’s a summer experience with a clear path towards their future.
While students typically go for that four-year bachelor’s degree to get a career, what we’re offering is a chance to get the experience to make the right career choice for you. You get a certification, which is a specialized certificate in a field of your choice, and then we offer you an exclusive interview for full-time employment with T-Mobile. Once you become an employee with T-Mobile, we offer tuition assistance. If you still want to pursue your bachelor’s degree, we got you! So, yes, it’s untraditional but we’re offering something that students weren’t able to get before.
Since becoming the first program manager to lead this, I’ve implemented a new recruiting strategy that invites the whole family onto our campus because parents are essentially the decision makers for these high school students, and we need to explain why we are doing this. Growing up, even I thought it had to be a four-year university to get your bachelor’s to then get a career. That’s how we were trained to think. I think it’s important to talk to the parents and explain to them that there is a way to help your kids get their dream job without having to get caught up in student loan debt if that’s the concern. Let me tell you how. Let me introduce you to the professionals who will be mentoring your children and helping them find their own pathway to career success, and how that can also lead to education success as well!