Stephanie Avila, a Fall 2016 Fellow at Rutgers University-Newark, shares her experience at Audible’s headquarters in Newark.
In the common area of Audible’s headquarters, the three finalist teams from Braven’s Capstone Celebration looked at the Manhattan skyline through the east window, and the Newark skyline through the south. New York was as striking as ever, but felt distant. Newark, however, seemed close and warm—the younger sister full of promise with a long and powerful life ahead of her.
The journey to get to this view had been months in the making. Back in September, these teams came together for the first time, not as teams but as individual students from Rutgers University-Newark placed into cohorts at the Braven Kickoff Celebration. We came together every week in our Learning Labs after that to build professional skills and ended up building friendships and strong networks along the way with our peers and Leadership Coaches. It was not until the end of the Braven Accelerator at the Capstone Hackathon that it was clear what we had accomplished individually and collectively. Over a dozen groups faced off against one another in an eight-hour design-thinking hack-a-thon to find an innovative solution to solve a key challenge for Audible: how might Audible increase users between the ages of 18 and 24? The teams with the three best solutions, judged by employees from Audible, were awarded with a tour of Audible’s headquarters in Newark, NJ, and Kindles.
“How you show up is how people will remember you,” advised Karen Kesner, Vice President of Talent Acquisition, when discussing the topic of personal brand. If this is true, Audible employees might remember our group as the overdressed bunch from Rutgers. None of us wore jeans, but most of the employees did. Audible had the tech startup feel with the Amazon company success. The chairs were bright orange, office floors were open, and we even humorously spotted a large stuffed giraffe with a blue helmet on one of the office floors. Ms. Kenser later explained that everything at Audible was designed for collaboration. The more relaxed atmosphere encourages the creation of innovative solutions that might be shut down in more formal settings. Ms. Kenser noted, “Our environment allows employees to feel like they are walking across the room to run an idea by a friend. Everyone is right there for you.”
As we concluded the tour with a lunch, I looked out at the two skylines and thought about how much Audible cares about Newark. They purchase local catering every week to support area businesses. They partner with North Star Academy, a local charter school, to give students early professional exposure. Their CEO even helped found a venture capital fund, Newark Venture Partners (NVP), which incubates technology companies, in order to bolster the city’s business appeal. “There’s no reason [businesses] can’t come here, come to Newark.” said Tom Wisniewski, Managing Partner at NVP. The building itself even is physically attached to the Rutgers University-Newark Business School.
I kept thinking about this as I stood next to my Braven peers for an end of tour group photo. In those moments, it struck me that the way Audible cares about Newark is similar to the way that Braven cares about us—students who might be first in their families to attend college or from other underrepresented backgrounds. Audible intends to partner with Newark, helping both rise to great heights. Braven intends to push us to even greater heights. We are the Newark skyline, young and full of promise. We are Braven Fellows. We can only rise.