When it comes to professionalism, High Point has it down pat. Our professional history spans everything from textiles and furniture, to shipping and transportation, to premier academics, to medicine, to accounting and finance, to everything in between! So it’s no surprise that our city serves as the perfect launchpad for recent graduates to begin their professional careers.
That’s why Piedmont Fellows, a local chapter of a national organization, The Fellows Initiative, makes it their goal to help recent college graduates “start well” right here in High Point. Through a 10-month professional development program, Piedmont Fellows gives college graduates a firm foundation for launching life after college: professionally, spiritually, and socially.
Structured around the core belief that faith and vocation go hand-in-hand, Piedmont Fellows draws on the resources of High Point and the surrounding areas to help Fellows plug into the community. Each Fellow is placed in a job at a local business and given ample opportunity to be mentored by High Point professionals. By partnering with Friendly Hills Church, the Piedmont Fellows program also provides each individual with spiritual support, and apartment-style living provides the Fellows with friendships and community.
“We want to show young professionals that there is dignity in work,” says Mike Gatton, Director of Piedmont Fellows. “We want to show them that God has given them gifts and experiences and skills. He cares if you crunch the numbers at this accounting firm or if you want to design this brochure… If we can change their idea about work early on, that can change the flow of their entire career.”
Leveraging professional development tools, training, and mentorship, Piedmont Fellows coaches each Fellow through their transition into the working world, instilling within them the value of using their gifts to work well.
Mike notes that too often after college, new graduates are given little to no direction on how to transition into the working world. And while the idea of a “gap year” after college may be appealing to some students, too often it prolongs the inevitable of gaining a career-based skillset.
“Imposter syndrome is huge among college graduates,” explains Amanda Martin, Assistant Director of Piedmont Fellows and a former Fellow herself. “You go into a working position, and it’s different than what you learned in college. It’s not by the books.”
The structure of the Fellows program means that graduates have a healthy way to discuss the challenges that come with a first job and seek solutions from professional mentors.
“They are able to talk about their frustrations with work in a way that is helpful and productive beyond what might be workplace gossip,” Mike explains. He also adds that in addition to building up employees with high levels of emotional and social intelligence, the program also directly benefits the business in the city.
“Businesses get to see if someone is going to be a good fit in their company,” he explains. “If that person is a good fit, then you know who you’re hiring and you can keep them on long-term.”
Amanda agrees that the Piedmont Fellows program benefits both High Point businesses and the young professionals who take part in the program, producing a mutually beneficial effect in the city.
“We’re assisting local businesses’ new employees in growing and developing in the skills they need for their company,” she says. “We’re bringing in individuals who want to grow in their character, their skillset, and their mindset, and be an asset to a company. The Fellows want to be not just consumers but contributors.”
To get a better look inside the Piedmont Fellows program, we talked with four Fellows graduates about their time in the program and the way High Point’s professional world helped them to develop.
Amanda discovered towards the end of their college career that what she had studied was different than what she wanted to pursue in her career. Right before graduating with a degree in biology, Amanda realized she cared deeply about human interactions. Knowing that she wanted to interact with individuals on a basis outside of medicine, she was given information on Piedmont Fellows through a class and decided it was the perfect opportunity to explore a different career path and strengthen her character at the same time.
“One of the biggest impacts I found from the program is realizing that the business community is very much about establishing a future… are willing to help the people around them create a community that is worth being a part of,” Amanda says. “It’s not always a dog-eat-dog world like you hear in college. The community is so important – not just our church community but our business community as well. Because as businesses, we’re responsible for our community.”
Today, Amanda is working as the Assistant Director for the Piedmont Fellows program and is committed to being part of growing the High Point business community.
During his senior year, Mitchell began to explore pathways for how he would use his degree after college, and when he encountered Piedmont Fellows, he knew the program was the right fit for him. Through his time with the program, he was impressed by the opportunity offered far beyond what an entry-level position would typically offer. He worked directly with the owner of CSM Flooring to structure a marketing plan and found himself enriched by the wealth of learning opportunities in High Point.
Mitchell also points out how beneficial the social component of the Fellows’ program is, as it gave him opportunities to strengthen his conflict resolution skills for his personal and professional life.
“Some of my best memories are having those hard conversations with people coming from different viewpoints,” he says, “just sitting down at a local coffee shop and being in that community that isn’t afraid to challenge one another but to do it peacefully.”
Mitchell says his long-term plan is to stay in High Point, where he can put down roots and enjoy keeping up with Rockers’ baseball. He is currently working as a freelance marketer for Christians in the Marketplace.
After graduating from UVA, Stephanie was accepted via early admissions to Vanderbilt University to receive her MBA. But the early admission left her with a year to fill, and she wasn’t sure how to use her gap year intentionally. Wanting to live among other Christians in a community setting, Stephanie received advice from a close friend to consider looking into The Fellows Initiative.
Stephanie was placed with AmpliFi, an accounting firm that handles accounts for small businesses. In her time at AmpliFi, Stephanie had the opportunity to expand the company by helping to onboard 10 people. Through this process, she developed a hands-on skillset to take into her MBA.
She also notes that the Piedmont Fellows program afforded her and the other graduates the opportunity to study the corporate working world and apply their knowledge in real-time.
“The Fellows get the benefit of putting into practice what they are learning immediately,” she says, referencing the additional mentorship and training they participate in. “They have structured times to talk about the workplace and what they’re experiencing… It helps to bring to light the topics in an immediate time frame.”
Once she arrived in High Point, Stephanie also found the apartment-style living and the friendships she made to be a gift.
“Those were some of the deepest and sweetest conversations in my apartment,” she says. “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
For Andrew, joining Piedmont Fellows proved to be a timely next step. After graduating in 2020, Andrew was encouraged by a former professor to explore the Piedmont Fellows program as a way to start his career. While Andrew had been discouraged by lack of communication at other jobs he applied for, he remembers Mike emailing back within the hour. The personal care and effort the Piedmont Fellows team put into supporting him made Andrew certain this was the place for him. As he went through his ten-month program, the care and friendship he saw from the team proved to be true throughout the program.
“I had a support network with current fellows and past fellows that have decided to stay in the area,” he says. Andrew encourages other recent graduates to consider the Piedmont Fellows program for the same reason. “You’re not going into somewhere where you know no one. You’re going somewhere where people will be willing to get to know you.”
He adds that beyond the personal relationships he built through Piedmont Fellows, the professional mentorship closely informed his future steps.
“Working with Cyril at Change Often really helped me to see how High Point is investing not only in its present but looking to invest in its future,” Andrew notes. He too plans to call High Point his new home for the foreseeable future.
“I liked the idea of coming and staying in a city that is growing, that is looking not just to concentrate that growth in a particular area, but to make sure everyone can benefit from the improved situation in the city,” he adds.
And like Amanda, Mitchell, and Andrew, many Fellows decide to build their permanent home in High Point, enriching our community with young professionals from all over the country.
Mike notes the intentionality in equipping graduates to start their lives in High Point. Taking a holistic approach to supporting the graduates means it’s more likely that young professionals will stay and invest in a career here. The Piedmont Fellows’ hope is that students will develop a community, friends, and a professional network that will extend once their 10 months is over.
Many Fellows also choose High Point as a place they want to stay and invest in because of how much the city has invested so much in them.
“What really stood out to me in High Point is how available mentorship is,” Mitchell says. He references conversations he shared with Paul Lessard, President of the High Point Community Foundation. “I’ve been amazed by the amount of people that are just willing to sit down and have a conversation, give you some advice, and help guide you.”
And as long as the businesses and professionals in High Point continue to see it as their responsibility to engage with and invest in young professionals in our city, High Point’s professional community will continue to flourish for years to come.
Discover our High Points,
The HPD Team
Photography by Kingdom Work Creative
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