Interns discover jobs, careers

Sami Pathan

Planning for the future: Gifted coordinator Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, Jake Giessman and former Advanced Seminar and Investigations teacher Marylin Toalson talk amongst themselves Feb. 15. The Advanced Seminar allows students to explore possible careers through internships. Photo by Avantika Khatri.

Senior Riaz Helfer spent his summer poring over hundreds of PDFs. The documents were tedious at best, but he trudged on, looking for papers that would meet the criteria of the professor he was interning under.

Though he felt the task was boring and seemingly unimportant, Helfer was helping a team of University of Missouri—Columbia engineers possibly develop a new way to detect hidden land mines.

Marking the increasing rise in popularity of student internships, in 2009 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said 54.3 percent of people aged 16 to 19 were employed or looking for employment, up from 50.2 percent in 2004. To Helfer the opportunity to explore a field of study before college gave him some insight into his future plans.

“I’m interested in pursuing a career in science, but I’m not sure what exactly I want to do in science and I haven’t yet ruled out engineering,” Helfer said. “So the exposure to the field, I think, will enable me to make a more informed decision in my future.”

For junior Sumidha Katti, however, her internship is a direct result of what she intends to study beyond high school. As an intern for a biology professor at the University of Missouri—Columbia, she spends much of her time helping scientists work with bacteria and DNA.

“I do want to go into medicine in my future,” Katti said, “and this kind of exposes me to the biological sciences and things like that. So [I] expect it would be pretty beneficial for the future.”

Kathryn Weaver instructs the Advanced Seminar and Investigations class, where she requires students to complete 90 hours of an internship.

But the class isn’t all about experiencing the internship, as she requires students to write a summary about interning and then arrange a guest speaker or field trip for the class. The class attempts to give high school students a chance to learn outside of the classroom.

“These student internships are incredibly beneficial. I think it’s one of the few times in K-12 education where you can get outside of the school walls and, for a lack of better words, kind of do something real,” Weaver said. “You need to be motivated to get out there and really do stuff.”

Often, a teenager’s main motivation to search for an internship is money. Senior Alex Upton, however, took his job shadowing sound technicians at the Blue Note knowing he would not be financially backed whereas Helfer, though he did not anticipate it, received pay for his work.

“I actually did not expect to get paid, but then they offered to pay me so I took it,” Helfer said. “The decision to work there wasn’t really made because I wanted to get paid but just turned out that way, and I definitely did not complain about that.”

Regardless of the lack of wage, Upton finds his internship to be rewarding on multiple levels. He feels the benefits of gaining on the job work experiences heavily outweigh not being paid for the work he provides to the Blue Note.

“I knew I wasn’t going to get paid, and I debated over that for some time. But I figured in the future it would be better to say that I’ve already sort of worked in the field than to get paid,” Upton said. “I get a lot of enjoyment out of what I do. I probably wouldn’t have sought the opportunity out if it hadn’t been about my future, but it turns out that I really do enjoy it.”

For most students, the key to a good internship is finding one that matches their vision of what a career will truly be like instead of finding a random internship they are not interested in.

The number of students who come back from an internship displeased with how it went surprised Weaver, because she expects students to enjoy them, but she also said that learning from these decisions is part of the process of choosing a future career.

“A lot of students come with dreams to be ‘X,’ so we hook them up with an internship in ‘X’ and they find out that, ‘It’s really just not what I thought it was,’” Weaver said. “And how great is it to find out something like that when you’re 16 years old instead of three years into a program in college.”

Though picking a career path has never been an exact science, internships help students get tastes of what different fields and occupations have in store and let high school students better prepare themselves for making future decisions about post-secondary studies.

“I think fewer and fewer students have a career path that’s narrow and straight,” Weaver said. “As all of our disciplines become more interconnected, you kind of have this life journey and these internships are just dots along that journey, and they help you take away other lessons and define yourself as you go.”
By Sami Pathan