First Tech Federal Credit Union Provides Students with Hands-On Work Experience


Students from the Hillsboro School District pose for a photo at the newly built ‘Ground Up’ coffee shop. The coffee shop, built by First Tech Federal Credit Union, is run by the students and has generated enough buzz to award each participating student a college scholarship.

When First Tech Federal Credit Union decided to build its new corporate campus in Hillsboro, Oregon, the Hillsboro School District saw a potential collaborator to help them create an innovative new experiential Marketing Lab for its students. The two organizations teamed up to create a unique opportunity for high school students to operate a full-service coffee shop in First Tech’s brand-new corporate campus. The result? Real-world lessons for students and exceptional coffee for credit union employees!

The coffee shop, cleverly named ‘Ground Up’ by the student baristas, is the Hillsboro School District’s first community-based, off-campus Marketing Lab for students — an experiential laboratory that is part of the district’s marketing career pathway. It is located directly across the street from the school district’s administration center, on the second floor of First Tech’s state-of-the-art new corporate building, which opened last year.

Operating Ground Up allows students to earn class credit during the school year while receiving pay for the hours they work on non-school days. The successful public-private Marketing Lab required the students to develop the business concept, product offerings, product and merchandise pricing, business operations and finance plans, branding and marketing — a comprehensive concept-to-execution experience for these high school students.

Hilhi’s Career and College Counselor, Melissa Pendergrass, developed the idea for the innovative partnership as a great way to provide real-world learning opportunities for students in the Business and Marketing career pathway. She then sought a partner in Brooke Nova, coordinator of career and college pathways program at the Hillsboro School District to help her present the idea to First Tech.

First Tech jumped at the idea to both offer local students an experiential opportunity to plan, promote, and operate a business while creating a relaxing state-of-the-art coffee shop experience for employees. After First Tech stepped up, Nike donated grant money to pay for the espresso machine and other necessary equipment, and Longbottom Coffee and Tea agreed to supply all products and recipes. 

Once the students gained experience and confidence making the drinks, Longbottom Coffee and Tea pastries joined the lineup as well.

According to Chary Krout, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at First Tech, the credit union was eager to support this student-led effort. It’s a win-win for both the students who get on-the-job experience, as well as First Tech employees, who get a convenient coffee shop at work. 

“Our mission as a credit union is to contribute to community wellness and education,” says Krout. “This partnership has been an incredibly productive way for us to give back while partnering with kids in the community. Next year we will provide the students with an opportunity to get to know the credit union so they have a better understanding of their coffee shop customers.”

Now, nearly six months later, the coffee shop is thriving. The program has been so successful that the Hillsboro School District has decided to open up the program to all high schools in the district so more students can participate in coming years.

The Ground Up experiment is now generating enough revenue to pay for the cost of products and the people who supervise the program—not to mention awarding college scholarships for each of the participating students!

“We’ll be able to award each of the eight student entrepreneurs an $800 scholarship just based on the tips they are receiving,” says Nova. “To get this kind of real-world experience running the business — and interacting with credit union employees — all while operating a sustainable business? Well, that’s a huge score.”

The coffee shop will remain in operation throughout the summer and will compensate the students for the hours they work to continue managing the operations.

 “This would not have happened without Melissa Pendergrass,” says Nova. “She absolutely had the vision, passion, and experience to see this through. My takeaway from this whole program with First Tech is that we have truly found a collaboration of people who are both dreamers and do’ers. What we have all created together is truly amazing — you need people who commit to doing what they say they will and this entire team of partners did just that.”

Posted in Community Impact.