Two Astellas Employees Making a Difference for Young Adults Transitioning from College to Career

For recent college graduates, the transition to professional life can prove difficult. About 60 percent of executives and hiring managers believe most college graduates can succeed in entry-level positions, according to a survey from the Association of American Colleges and Universities.1 However, just one-third of these executives and one quarter of hiring managers surveyed believe these college graduates have the necessary skills and knowledge to advance in their jobs.

Two Astellas employees are working hard to help young adults in the St. Louis metropolitan area and other expanding US cities overcome these odds and successfully navigate their transition from school to working as young business professionals. Larry Blue, senior key account manager, Astellas, and Kendra Neely-Martin, executive rep I, SPC, Astellas, launched a non-profit organization in 2009 named “Backpack to Briefcase.” Through this mentoring and scholarship program, college students are provided with professional exposure and development opportunities that are critical in supporting the classroom to corporate mind-shift, while addressing the unmet equity, diversity and inclusion gaps for major corporations in talent acquisition.

Since its first cohort of four students in 2009, Backpack to Briefcase has raised more than $100,000 to help hundreds of college students get off to a strong professional start. The organization’s team of experienced professional development coaches providing comprehensive support and guidance has grown to include successful sales professionals, corporate executives, and entrepreneurs. Among the program’s graduates, Delshawn “Shawn” Fowler was recently hired to join Astellas.

According to Kendra Neely-Martin, “There was such a huge thirst and need for the work that we’re doing. Backpack to Briefcase has given us a platform to provide advice and information that these young adults wouldn’t normally have access to. Our goal is to jump start job experiences and offer young adults a path to have a sustainable career.”

At the same time, Larry said he is heartened by the incredible drive these young adults are demonstrating. He said, “The students are amazing, and I don’t want to underestimate them during these circumstances.”Larry Blue added, “This year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I was even more determined to continue the program after I heard the stories our students shared with us.  They shared their financial concerns about moving back home because of COVID-19 or worried they would be at a disadvantage at home if they didn’t have access to WiFi and other essentials to learn. Some of our recent graduates shared their job offers were later rescinded. As I heard their stories, I knew we couldn’t slow down. We had to keep going to help them however we could.”

Astellas recently recognized Larry’s and Kendra’s incredible efforts by awarding them the company’s Ivan Martinez Community Support Award at its 2020 National Sales Forum meeting. Astellas selects a single employee from each of its sales business units annually to receive this honor in recognition of his or her incredible commitment to supporting the community. Astellas established the Ivan Martinez Community Service Award in 2015, in memory of Ivan Martinez, a member of the company’s Hospital Marketing Team and a committed volunteer, who passed away from lung cancer in 2011.

“When we were recognized with the Ivan Martinez Community Support Award, it made me feel like I work for a special place. The cheers and messages from people who I work with and others that I didn’t even know was incredible – it was a sea of warmth,” said Larry. “Volunteerism and charity aren’t things we do at Astellas. They are the fabric of who we are as a company.”

Astellas encourages all full-time employees in the U.S. the opportunity to take up to five days of paid time off each year to volunteer in local communities at qualified local nonprofit organizations of the employee’s choice. Changing Tomorrow Day is the company’s annual day of service which is a collaborative effort with local nonprofits to provide Astellas employees an opportunity to make a positive, measurable impact in the communities we serve.

“Astellas’ commitment to its communities and supporting employee volunteerism is one of the top reasons I joined Astellas and what attracted me the most about the culture,” Kendra added. “Receiving the Ivan Martinez Community Support Award was one more validation that makes it easier to continue to put in the long hours we are for these young adults and bringing our whole selves and families to the cause.”

Larry and Kendra are continuing to help Backpack to Briefcase participants navigate these currently turbulent times, while finding opportunities to broaden their program further to reach even more students in the future. For more information about Backpack to Briefcase, please visit the organization’s website and follow them on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn.


1 “Fulfilling the American Dream: Liberal Education and the Future of Work -- Selected Findings from Online Surveys of Business Executives and Hiring Managers.” Association of American Colleges & Universities. July 2018. Link:

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