'Ground Up' coffee shop is open to First Tech, school district employees near district office.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Jackson Strunk, 17, from Hillsboro High School prepares coffee for a customer at Ground Up, a new student-run coffee bar at First Tech Credit Union in Hillsboro.On a recent Friday morning, a handful of high school seniors get ready for work.

They tie up their green aprons, complete their prep duties and turn on the espresso machine.

It's 7:15 a.m., more than an hour before the rest of their classmates will begin their school day.

For the past few weeks, six students in the Hillsboro School District have been getting a head start in their professional careers, thanks to a creative collaboration between the district and First Tech Credit Union's new Hillsboro headquarters off Brookwood Parkway, 5100 N.E. Dawson Creek Drive.STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - The shop is open to employees of First Tech Credit Union and Hillsboro School District.

The students — four students from Hillsboro High School and two from Century High — are working at Ground Up, an entirely student-run coffee shop inside First Tech's new 150,000-square-foot corporate building, next to the school district office.

The students, who were recruited by their business and marketing teachers, earn school credit by working at the coffee shop during the school week. On non-school days, the students are paid by First Tech Credit Union. The coffee shop is open to First Tech and district employees.

"So far, I have loved it," said Century High senior Carlos Ramirez. "I really like it when it gets busy. I just really enjoy making coffee and serving the community. I think it's a really great opportunity for the future ... to learn how a business works and runs."

The idea for the student-run coffee shop came from two district employees, Brooke Nova, the district's college and career pathways coordinator, and Hillsboro High School to Career Specialist Melissa Pendergrass. The two were looking for local companies interested in partnering with the district on career-training projects. When Nova heard the bank's new headquarters building was being built next door to the district office, she figured it would be worth the ask, she said.

"I was like, 'Hey, welcome to the neighborhood and here is just something to think about,'" she said with a laugh.

To Nova's surprise, it was a go.

Put skills into action

First Tech had already planned to build a cafe inside their new building, she said, but they hadn't yet found a vendor.

Using a Nike Education Grant, the district was able to purchase much of the cafe equipment. A sponsorship from Hillsboro-based Longbottom Coffee & Tea provided the rest.

Everything "just lined up," Nova said. The coffee shop poured its first cup of coffee on Wednesday, Sept. 5, the first day of school for the high school seniors.

Jackson Strunk, a senior at Hillsboro High School, is looking to become an accountant after high school. He said working in First Tech's new corporate office is an exciting opportunity.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Century High School student Carlos Ramirez, 17, takes a customer's order at the new student-run coffee shop Ground Up. "It's been great," he said. "It's a lot of fun. … I'm probably going to major in business, so I'm glad I get work experience and to (work inside) First Tech."

For now, the students are mastering their barista skills, said Pendergrass, who has taken the program under her wing. The students will eventually work on business and marketing ideas for the café, something the students have been studying throughout high school.

"This is their experience to put all of the skills into action," Pendergrass said. "All of the students who are working have expressed an interest in being a business owner, an entrepreneur or some kind of accountant or marketing specialist in their future. We really want them to graduate having already experienced some of those pieces, other than just learning about it in the classroom."

Nova hopes Ground Up will serve as a model for district-business partnerships in the future.

"To have that experience in a business setting I think is such a great experience for the kids," she said. "It's also great for the place of business, because I think high schoolers bring such an energy. To be able to have that energy in the building (and) for students to be in this beautiful space and place of business (is great)."

Students are working shifts in the mornings from 7:15 until 10 a.m. and as the school year continues, Pendergrass hopes to keep the cafe open longer.

Next fall, plans are in the works to hire additional students to work in the coffee shop, employing interested students from all four of the district's high schools. Future plans could include replicating the idea at other local businesses that would be open to the public, Pendergrass said.

"I think being able to find partners in the (community) to support students and grow great things, really shows First Tech's intention of being in this community," Nova said. "I love that."

By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
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