Internships Give Students a Taste of Possible Careers

Sterling High School students in the automotive internship program pose with their mentors from the Transportation Services department.

Sterling High School students in the automotive internship program pose with their mentors from the Transportation Services department.

Darrien Coleman plans to own his own auto repair shop one day, and although still in high school, he is already taking meaningful steps to achieve that dream.

The Sterling High School senior has been participating in an automotive internship program since last November that allows HISD students to work with members of the district’s own Transportation Department to learn the ins and outs of school bus maintenance.

The pilot program was launched at Sterling last year, with plans to expand it throughout the district in 2013–2014.

“I’m learning a lot,” said Coleman of the experience. “We’ve done everything from removing an engine to transmission jobs to brakes—even simple things like replacing a wire or a light bulb.”

The things Coleman appreciates most about the program are its cost (free) and his instructors’ clear desire to share their expertise. “I have a free opportunity to do something I love that other people have to pay for. But the thing is, you’re also with a group of guys who want to see you make it, and they will show you anything you want to know,” he said.

HISD Career and Technical Education (CTE) Director Michael Webster says that by the conclusion of the internship, participating students should be certified to work on diesel engines, which is currently a high-demand field. “If we don’t hire them, someone else will,” he said.

Sterling High School CTE instructor John Chilo agrees. “I think this is the driving force behind career and technical education,” he said. “Students leave the campus during the day and experience what their education is leading to. Some kids are rebellious at this age, but once they get into this, they start to see the importance of education, of coming to class, and of learning. By the time they graduate, they are going to already be familiar with HISD’s Transportation Department. They will already know what to look for and how to do the job.”

HISD has a number of similar partnerships in place through which students can obtain valuable work experience. Student-business match-ups are usually handled at the campus level, but Webster says he is in the process of making the coordination of internships easier for teachers.

“One of the problems we’ve noticed is that teachers get one period, sometimes two, to go out and make business partnerships,” said Webster. “And it’s just unrealistic to expect teachers to be able to do that. So what we’ve started to do this year is put together a database, so CTE teachers can call us up and we can connect them with interested businesses.”

One recent example he cited is a woodworking company located close to HISD’s headquarters on the near-northwest side of town. “We connected them with Lee and Furr High Schools,” he said. “It’s just a better way to do it than to have 20 people calling one company. This way, they only have one point of contact.”