Internships Provide On-the-Job Learning

Respect, responsibility, and accountability: how opportunities for learning in the workplace bring out the best in students.

Respect, responsibility, and accountability: how opportunities for learning in the workplace bring out the best in students.
Senior Lilly Rodriguez speaking with a lady; Senior Y

Internships are required for students at MC2 STEM High School; they can choose from organizations as varied as the American Civil Liberties Union (left) or Turner Construction Company (right).

Credit: Zachary Fink

One question the staff at MC2 (Metropolitan Cleveland Consortium) STEM High School (MC2 STEM), a year-round public school in Cleveland, Ohio, never want their students to feel the need to ask is: "Why are we learning this?" At this school that was created through a public-private partnership among over 60 organizations and businesses (PDF), they want the link between school and future success to be crystal clear and always applicable to the work students are doing. From the real-world relevance of their interdisciplinary project-based learning, to their campuses embedded in STEM workplaces, to the business mentors and internships, MC2 STEM students are continuously exposed to the world that awaits them.

Experiences Help Guide Career Paths

At every grade level, MC2 STEM provides different opportunities for students to interact with business professionals and to experience workplace environments:

  • In grade nine, students have day-long sessions at the NASA Glenn Research Center four times a year, as well as after-school opportunities to work with NASA employees.
  • Grade ten is embedded on the General Electric Lighting campus and every student is paired with a GE "buddy" for the year, with whom they meet at least twice a month. There is also a mandatory sophomore project (PDF) in which students work on a project with GE employees and gain exposure to all aspects of the business process. GE business leaders assess the projects at the end.
  • In grades 11-12, students can participate in internships (PDF) where they can apply skills they are learning and gain new skills that will prepare them for the working world.
  • Throughout grades 9-12, students who are academically ready can also take college-level classes at local university and community college campuses.

This kind of exposure to the working world gives students the chance to dip their toes into fields they might be interested in, and sometimes to eliminate certain fields and discover new ones. Senior Lilly Rodriguez describes how she interned in two different areas before she found one that feels right: "I got my NASA internship and I found out I don't want to be an astronomer; then I got my internship at University Hospitals and found out I don't want to do anything that has to do with hospitals; but the internship that I have now [at the American Civil Liberties Union], I really, really enjoy, and I think I'm going to end up doing something with protection of our rights because I'm very passionate about that."

Setting the Bar for Adulthood

MC2 STEM maintains a high bar for its students in their performance beyond academics. Starting in freshman year, they interact with adults from the business world and are expected to learn quickly how to conduct themselves maturely and professionally. Senior Timothy Hatfield got one of his first lessons when he started one of his internships during freshman year. He was supposed to begin at 8 a.m., but he had a two-hour commute between train and bus, so asked if he could have a later start time. The answer from his supervisor was a clear no, you need to be here on time, like a professional.

MC2 STEM students have learned and adapted quickly to these kinds of expectations, and adults have seen evidence of their personal growth. Gary Allen, a principal engineer at GE Lighting and Hatfield's mentor during sophomore year as well as project manager for his senior year internship, describes the change he's seen in Hatfield since then: "He has become a tremendously different person. He is much more mature, focused, and motivated, and has a very good sense of where he's going. He's ready to change the world."

Research supports the potential benefits of real-world experiences for increasing student engagement and helping make school more relevant to students' lives. Integrating academic and workplace experiences can even have potential positive impacts on students' earning potential later in life, and are key factors in making students ready for college and their future careers. You can read more about MC2 STEM as well as a research summary about other strategies that are in practice at MC2 STEM.

Resources from MC2 STEM

(Read about transdisciplinary PBL and the mastery assessment system at MC2 STEM)

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This article originally published on 10/31/2012

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