From 2016 to 2021, The Greenwood Project has helped over 400 students in the South and West sides of Chicago navigate the finance industry through exposure, education, and national internships. By centering on community and family, Greenwood guides student scholars between the ages of 18 and 23 to excel in professional settings confidently.
The Greenwood Project was founded in 2015 by Elois Sprolls and Bevon Joseph. Two programs, one for high schoolers and one for college students, are offered by Greenwood.
Each program links underserved students with opportunities for vertical mobility by giving them chances to expand their horizons of success beyond their immediate environments.
“It is an amazing organization that gives much-needed exposure to Black and Latino students from underserved communities, like myself, a chance to learn about an industry that they probably would have never ever looked into,” co-founder of the Greenwood Project, Elois Sprolls, said. “The training and resources that we provide, even down to the uniforms and transportation, are 100 percent free to the students.”
One hundred percent of Greenwood Project students who graduate from college are employed, and 73 percent work in the finance industry. Students who graduate from Greenwood programs have acquired jobs with companies like JPMorgan Chase, Rosenthal Collins Group, Calais Insurance, and CoBank, among others. Greenwood has had a 28-percent increase in corporate partnerships from 2020 to 2021, maintains a 90 percent partner retention rate, and has a $2 million projected revenue in 2022.
Beyond jobs, Greenwood empowers students to make thoughtful choices about their future. Journee Lockridge, 22, started the Greenwood Project during her junior year of high school and attributes her decision to attend Howard University to Sprolls. Lockridge acknowledges that Sprolls had one of the greatest impacts on her life because they met during what Lockridge calls “a difficult time” in her life.
“She was a person who inspires me to keep going within finance. From supporting me and my family and my career, and making sure I have numerous opportunities to support my dream of going to Howard University,” Lockridge said. “[If] I needed advice for just about anything, she (Sprolls) will be the person I call.”
For over 20 years, Sprolls has developed her career as a finance professional. Through Greenwood, she shares her expertise and inspires Chicago youths to “be what they can’t see.”
Sprolls started her finance career in 1997 as a price reporter at the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE). As a price reporter, she performed data entry of stock options transactions. She took on more responsibility as a broker’s clerk before earning a journalism degree from Columbia College Chicago in 2001.
Between 2003 and 2017, Sprolls worked at a trading firm in Chicago where she became a compliance officer for 10 years. It was during this time that she earned her Series 4, 6, 7, and 63 licenses to sell financial products.
She decided to pursue an advanced degree at Northern Illinois University (NIU) after spending years applying her skills directly to finance jobs. In 2015, she graduated with a Master’s in Business Administration from NIU. At NIU she learned to appreciate what she learned in leadership and personal development as opposed to the classes that taught technical finance and accounting.
In 2021, she became an adjunct professor at NIU and taught the “business in action class.” There she taught 40 incoming students in the College of Business everything from accounting, leadership, and finance strategy. From being a first-generation college student, she went in with empathy and understanding to make herself relatable to students.
One student, Mya Martinez, 21, recently completed Greenwood’s four-week intensive program. Greenwood flew her out to her internship in Colorado with CoBank and gave free lodging, meals, transportation, and an $800 weekly stipend as well. Martinez attributes where she’s positioned in her career to Sprolls’ influence.
“I started off having conversations with her. She interviewed me and from there, our relationship sparked. She’s an amazing role model,” Martinez said. “She was in the finance world on trading floors where it was a white-dominated space and she made her mark. She definitely inspires me and gives me the courage to continue pushing, make my mark, and see things through when I’m feeling discouraged.”
As a mentor in Greenwood, Sprolls learned to serve students by channeling younger versions of herself and projecting empathy and vulnerability to support students who were academically insecure.
“Thanks to Greenwood I definitely have and feel more confident, I felt like I belong,” Greenwood Project college cohort member Marcus Hill said. “And that’s why I feel like there is a need for more programs like this because what they’re doing is something nobody else is really doing.”
Hill mentioned how Sprolls inspired him because, as someone who’s from a similar background, she shows her mentees in the Greenwood Project how to reach far and beyond the heights that she’s reached.