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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

March 28, 2014 at 2:07 PM

Guest: High-school internships offer strong path to STEM careers


Julie Burr

If you’re raised in a family with a mom who’s a computer programmer and dad who’s an aerospace engineer, chances are you’ll take the right high school classes and consider pursuing a bright future in a STEM career.

If you come from a different background, the fields of science, technology, engineering and math — collectively known as STEM — might seem uninviting. Upon graduation from high school, you won’t suddenly develop an interest in a STEM career. If you do, you likely won’t be admitted or succeed as a STEM major in college if you have a lack of high school preparation. With the huge shortage of skilled workers in STEM fields, this seems a travesty.

Highline Public Schools’ new Raisbeck Aviation High School serves as a model for how schools can help fill the local skills gap and give hope to students with limited opportunities. The school’s internship program, in particular, enables students to start exploring STEM careers early on in their high-school careers while gaining important real-world experience.

Raisbeck students are surrounded by caring professionals from aerospace careers on a daily basis. A scaffold approach to STEM career exploration begins with the freshman-level Career Choices class, where a constant stream of STEM professionals come to inform and inspire. Students become comfortable networking with professionals, and many doors are opened, such as tours to commercial space flight company Blue Origin or Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining company.

Science education is limited in schools, and few resources exist for impactful career exploration beyond the school walls. Internships provide young people with exciting, real world experience when they make decisions about their future. After a few years of development, the internship program at Raisbeck took off with 170 internships ranging from entry level volunteer positions as Museum of Flight Ambassadors to high level engineering internships with The Boeing Company. Word had spread among industry leaders that high school interns often “run circles around the college interns.” A Federal Aviation Administration manager reported that hosting 14 interns refreshed the atmosphere, invigorated staff and increased their productivity.

Back at Raisbeck, internships have changed the school culture. Hallway buzz is about internship experiences instead of the weekend gossip. Teachers report internships helping students see relevance in what they’re learning.  And internships have helped shape curriculum. Supervisor feedback about the need for all students to have basic coding influenced the decision to change our IT class to an introductory course in programming.

Highline Superintendent Susan Enfield has seen the positive impact of these internships firsthand and is now working with the other six school districts in the Road Map / South King County STEM Network to share best practices so all public high school students in the region can experience career-based training.

Julie Burr is the career access manager for the Highline School District.

Comments | More in Guest opinion, Math and science, Opinion | Topics: Highline School District, Raisbeck Aviation High School, STEM


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