August 8, 2013
Thursday, August 8, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin staff writer
An internship program giving local high school students paid experience working for a high-tech company was hugely successful in its first year, according to New College Institute (NCI) officials.
Fourteen students who enrolled in NCI’s Academy for Engineering and Technology (AET) program during the past school year took part in the institute’s Experiential Learning in Technology and Engineering (ELITE) program this summer. The juniors and seniors worked side-by-side with engineering professionals at Commonwealth Laminating & Coating Inc.
Commonwealth was so impressed with the students that it hired several to work part-time after they return to school in the coming weeks.
“I think Commonwealth would hire more if it could,” said Katie Croft, NCI’s experiential learning coordinator.
However, most of the students either are going away to college this fall or could not handle a job with their course loads either at college or in their senior year in high school, Croft said.
Matt Phillips, Commonwealth’s chief operating officer, said the interns were of a quality that “far surpassed anything we expected.”
“It’s important for high school students to start building their résumés and expose themselves to (career) opportunities that they may not realize they have access to” locally, Croft said.
Giving high school students hands-on experience in their desired career fields is “critically important to their education outside the classroom,” said NCI Associate Director and Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins.
One of NCI’s most important goals, said Executive Director William Wampler, is to produce graduates who meet the needs of local employers.
“Our industries need a workforce that is equipped with knowledge and skills (gained) from quality classroom instruction and real world experience,” Wampler said.
ELITE’s purpose is to help students interested in engineering and technology careers learn skills they need for modern jobs, such as being able to work in teams and communicate well, while helping them make connections with an advanced manufacturing industry for potential long-term jobs, according to NCI.
Commonwealth Human Resources Manager Rachel Halpin said that for many of the interns, this was their first opportunity to be part of the staff of a world-class company.
Company officials “hope we have imparted the importance of professionalism, responsibility and cooperation for each and every role in which they were placed,” she said.
Employees also learned from the students, she said, adding “it is important for companies to be aware of the unique qualities and characteristics that each generation brings to the workplace.”
Bassett High School graduate Andrew Rotenberry worked in production and logistics at Commonwealth. He said the experience helped him understand a product’s value to a company as well as the advanced manufacturing realm.
“This internship reassured me that I want to be a logistics engineer,” said Rotenberry, who will attend Danville Community College. He is one of the interns Commonwealth recently hired.
Martinsville High School graduate Darius Simington said his internship let him see day-to-day, behind-the-scenes advanced manufacturing operations.
“The opportunity to work side by side with seasoned professionals within engineering and technology has increased my confidence and given me the ability to see myself within a career field like them,” said Simington, who is about to enter George Mason University.
Kylan Roberts, a Martinsville High School student who took part in ELITE and will graduate next year, said his coworkers at Commonwealth were “accepting of me and the other interns, despite our age and experience differences,” and they reassured him throughout the learning process.
Croft acknowledged that some firms might be hesitant to let high school students work for them due to concerns over the students’ maturity levels.
Yet when interns are told what is expected of them while being allowed to voice what is important for them to get out of an internship and given a financial incentive to do well, they “rise to the occasion again and again,” she said.
ELITE interns were paid $9 an hour, which Croft said NCI covered.
NCI hopes to expand ELITE in the future to include more students and companies, she said.
The program is “something that we want to continue to support and be part of,” said Commonwealth’s Phillips.
To apply for an ELITE internship, students must be enrolled in NCI’s Academy for Engineering and Technology, which is a partnership between the New College and Virginia State University.
Students are chosen for internships based on factors such as how well they do academically and their respect for the curriculum, according to Croft.
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