Antioch High School seniors Nadia Muñoz and Francisco Valencia admittedly didn’t have high expectations for their summer internships at Verizon.
Muñoz thought she’d be running errands. Valencia figured he’d be fetching coffee.
Instead, Muñoz spent the summer testing SIM cards in new cell phone models, and Valencia built an application to help manage address book contacts for a Verizon service.
“I’m very proud of it,” Valencia told his peers who gathered for the launch of a new work-based program aimed at introducing more students to careers.
The program, launched Dec. 5, will expand the business partnership at the school. Verizon employees will provide mini-career seminars at the Antioch High campus in East Contra Costa County every month, giving students in the high school’s engineering and design academy firsthand exposure to potential careers and helping provide relevance to the subjects students are studying in class.
Business involvement in schools is seen as a key part of efforts to better prepare students for college and careers, a main goal of the Common Core State Standards in math and English. Yet education officials say effective partnerships are often lacking.
“Everywhere I go, I talk to employers saying we can’t find the skilled workforce we need, and I talk to young people in schools saying we want opportunities and we can’t find them,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in October at a roundtable discussion in San Francisco on the importance of engaging business in schools. “Somehow the matchmaking, the connection (between business and education) doesn’t happen in too many places.”
Students in the Antioch program will participate in mock interviews and résumé-building exercises, learn about professional behavior, go on company tours and have the chance to be mentored by Verizon employees. The program will culminate in paid summer internships for many of the students in the academy, offering important real-world experience that a growing number of educators say is crucial to keep students engaged in their studies and better prepare them for college and the workplace.
The Antioch program is a partnership between Verizon and the National Academy Foundation, a national nonprofit organization based in New York that works with and promotes academic and career academies like the one at Antioch High. Antioch’s engineering academy, officially called Engineering and Designing a Green Environment, or EDGE, is a NAF academy, where students receive academic instruction tailored around career themes. Internships, job shadowing and other exposure to the work world are important parts of the curriculum.
The EDGE Academy/Verizon Work-Based Learning Program is modeled after a similar one launched last year at another NAF academy, Manhattan Bridges High School in New York. The monthly visits were a hit with students, said Jayne Mayer, director of employee engagement for the Verizon Foundation.
The partnerships are also beneficial for businesses, who say the early introduction to careers pays off in training a future workforce.
“It made me realize we could do it,” said Antioch High School senior Nadia Muñoz.
“There’s a business side to creating a talent pipeline,” Mayer said. “But if we look at it more through a philanthropic lens, there’s a gap in this country with not enough students prepared or interested in STEM careers,” she added, using the acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. “By getting to students early, we’re trying to provide them some perspective and hopefully produce more STEM folks.”
Students in the Antioch program also have another advantage: Verizon is a participant in the National Academy Foundation’s recently launched NAFTrack Certified Hiring program. Participating businesses agree to give special hiring consideration to students who graduate from certified NAF academies. The perks could include college internship opportunities, the potential for higher starting salaries and guaranteed interviews, among other advantages.
Business partnerships are an important part of the NAF model, where “hundreds if not thousands of other business partners” work with academies on activities like curriculum review and work-based learning activities, said James Cole, work-based learning manager for the National Academy Foundation.
The business experience introduces students to career possibilities, but also helps demystify the work world to help students understand how what they’re learning in school relates to what they may do in the future.
Students were intent and engaged as speaker Lodema Steinbach, a technology manager at Verizon’s regional office in Walnut Creek, talked about the career path that led to her current job, where she helps design technology students can use on their cell phones. She shared personal stories students could relate to – like feeling that maybe everyone else in the room knows more than you do, or what it’s like to be the only woman in a meeting full of men.
They peppered her with questions: “How many times do you get people who mess up?” “Do you have jobs for accountants?” and “If we do an internship there, we can dress like you every day” in jeans and business casual attire?
Muñoz said her internship this past summer changed her outlook on future careers. Before her gig at Verizon, she thought only people who had a special “in” or other connections could get jobs at big firms. But after she began working, she saw the employees were just everyday people.
“It made me realize we could do it,” said Muñoz, who intends to enroll in a California State University campus in the fall and pursue a career in immigration law, encouraged by the experience she earned through the academy program and the internship.