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What high school students need to know about local summer internships

It’s still winter: Just the time to begin figuring out summer internships and experience opportunities.

High school internships are generally open to students 16 and up (although some volunteer programs accept younger students), and having an internship under your belt before senior year is a strong addition to a college application.

Read on to see why you should try and how you can make the most of your summer.

What’s the value?

Last year Morinne Osborne had just been elected class president. She’s now a senior at Ardrey Kell High.

“I wanted to learn how to become a good leader, some good ideas that make people inspired,” she said. So she applied to Bank of America Foundation’s summer internship program and, after accepting it, said it was the “best experience I’ve ever had.”

“It opened a lot of doors, and I met a lot of people,” she said.

Morinne hopes to go to medical school after college, and she said she had to be open-minded about interning for a banking company. She said she gained new perspective on finance, particularly after a financial literacy seminar. Her advice to students wary of internships that don’t involve their dream jobs: “I’d definitely say try it before you knock it.”

Ralph Beck, director of education for Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, runs the center’s high school internship program and said keeping an open mind is paramount.

At the beginning of an internship, he said he tells the group, “ ‘I realize many of you, maybe most of you, maybe all of you, won’t wind up in a performing arts center, but that’s not why you’re interning. Look for other applications (of the skills you learn), because much of what we do is applicable regardless of what you end up doing.’ 

The internship, Beck said, is a discovery process about your likes or dislikes.

“Maybe the best thing that could happen is you find out what you don’t want to do,” he said. “Maybe you’ve romanticized some particular career and you get there and think, ‘Man, this isn’t anything like what I thought it would be.’ 

Lisa Foster, CMC Pineville’s nurse educator, places high school interns in the hospital to shadow staff during the school year. She said she’s glad to be watching one intern who wants to be a microbiologist getting excited about observing in the labs.

“I think this will really solidify for him what his dream is,” Foster said.

She said many others arrive not knowing what they want to do, changing their minds about which medical field interests them or discovering that they don’t want to study medicine at all. “And that’s OK, because it’s not for everybody,” Foster said.

Besides self-discovery, another big plus to high school internships? Boosting your resume for college applications or future internships.

“It only makes you more marketable long-term,” said Sophia Davis, manager of the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program, which places area high school students in more than 300 paid internships a year. She said some of the internships in the program have led to apprenticeships, full-time employment and invitations to work during college breaks.

Even without a formal internship, shadowing someone for a day or doing volunteer work can be valuable, said Charmaine Morgan-Pullin, career and technical education coordinator for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. You can still put it on your resume.

Internships now seem to be a necessary rung in the employment ladder, said Jack Whelan, director of college guidance at Providence Day School.

“Employers insist on these things, and colleges are delivering on them,” he said. “It’s been a trickle-down effect where more and more high school students are looking for and gaining real work experience.”

Prep for the process

Whether you’re applying for internships through a placement program or searching for opportunities solo, you’ve got to make a resume, write a cover letter and get a letter of recommendation.

“Your resume will speak volumes, so make sure it’s done nicely because (potential employers) will more than likely see you on paper before they see you in person,” Davis said.

People will understand you won’t have a resume with lengthy work experience. Include information that will show why you’d be a beneficial intern, Morgan-Pullin said. For example, she said, put down volunteer work, school activities and jobs like lawn mowing or baby-sitting. Davis added that students should include specific skill sets in their resumes and cover letters.

“It’s crucial, crucial, they put that down,” Davis said. “Whatever software programs or skill sets they have that will be applicable to the company or employer, they need to really make sure they add that.”

To avoid an internship that involves fetching coffee or making copies, she said, students should talk about what skills they would use during an internship and discuss expectations. “That’s the conversation to be had during the interview upfront,” she said.

Reference letters can hold a lot of weight: That’s how Foster said she chooses her interns through the CMS Academic Intern program.

Students applying for internships or shadowing on their own should hand out a reference letter from a counselor, principal or parent along with resumes and cover letters, Davis advised. She also recommended students take one of the Mayor’s Youth Employment Programs certification training programs through CMS. They cover job readiness, customer service and financial literacy. There is training open to CMS students Feb. 17.

Davis also emphasized the importance of keeping social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, appropriate. “Sometimes that can deter an employer to even consider a youth,” she said.

And if you’ve set up a meeting to talk about opportunities or an interview? Congratulations!

But there’s more you should know, Beck said. “In an office situation, its always better to overdress than underdress,” he said. “Always.”

He noted that he assumes young men who show up without polished shoes lack discipline. In addition to being well-groomed, Beck said a strong handshake, eye contact, not mumbling and projecting confidence are all key.

And it’s OK if you don’t have all the answers, he said. “If you don’t know an answer, show the willingness to learn, or say, ‘I’ll get online as soon as I get home to look that up.’ Anything to indicate, ‘What I don’t know, I’m anxious about learning.’ 

What’s out there?

If you’re looking for internships or experience on your own, the best way to find something is through networking, said Charmaine Morgan-Pullin, career and technical education coordinator for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. She recommended talking to family friends, teachers, coaches and neighbors to ask if they know of opportunities at a workplace that interests you.

Whelan also suggested talking to parents of friends. “It’s just amazing the contacts that kids have and don’t even realize they’re right in their neighborhood and right in their own friend group.”

He said initiative is also key because companies rarely post for intern positions, “but more companies than you imagine in all types of areas are very open to it if the student is proposing something.”

Whelan also advised students not to get discouraged. “It’s not going to fall in your lap. It does take a little legwork and hearing ‘no’ a couple of times, and it takes following up on a call with an email if you haven’t heard immediately back.”

There are many options for high school students, and now is the time to be thinking about summer opportunities.

Mayor’s Youth Employment Program: First, there is the job readiness training open to CMS students Feb. 17. That’s put on by the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program, which works in 14 CMS high schools to help kids get work experience. Eleven of those schools are Title I schools, but Davis, manager of program, said it serves students from all backgrounds. The program starts at the beginning of the school year and requires students to complete the training for eligibility to apply for paid summer internships.

The February session is a makeup session, and students who attend one of the 14 schools and complete it will be put on a waiting list for the program’s summer internships, Davis said. The best way to get more information about the program is to ask your counselor.

Career Discovery Day: The mayor’s program also requires students trying to get a paid internship to attend Career Discovery Day April 9, which organizers expect to attract about 4,000 CMS high school students. It’s not a job fair, but it’s a chance to hear about various career options. The event does lend itself to networking, though. “Kids are probably more than welcome to give their resumes” to a professional they’re interested in working for, said Morgan-Pullin of CMS.

The event will be 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Park Expo and Conference Center on Independence Boulevard.

CMS Academic Internship program: This program takes online applications for a wide range of summer internships April 24-May 8. To be eligible, students must have a GPA of at least 2.0 (weighted), be at least 16, attend school regularly and show appropriate behavior, said Morgan-Pullin. Students have to submit a resume, teacher recommendation and a parent-signature form.

CMS generally places about 200 students in summer internships ranging from engineering to arts to business, she said, and the hours count toward an elective credit.

Talk to your counselor: High school counselors are good resources for learning about summer opportunities, and now is the time to ask.

Other opportunities

Summer Youth Leadership Program: An eight-week, paid summer internship with the N.C. Community Development Initiative that explores community economic development and provides leadership training. The application will be online this spring. To apply, go to ncinitiative.org and click on Leadership Development. Must be a rising senior to apply.

Novant Health Junior Volunteer Program: Deadline to apply for the June-August program is March 31, and it’s available to students 14 and up. Volunteers will learn about health care through helping staff, visitors and patients with nonmedical tasks. To apply, go to novanthealth.org, drag your mouse over the Giving tab and click on Volunteer Opportunities. An essay and letter of recommendation are part of the application.

YMCA: The YMCA of Greater Charlotte locations hire about 1,500 high school students in the summer. The hiring process typically happens in February. Students interested in summer internships, volunteering or shadowing at the YMCA can also reach out to branches where they’re interested in working, said Trish Taylor, the Y’s association director of learning and development. Ask to speak with the camp director for a paid position or the volunteer coordinator or teen director for experience opportunities.

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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