- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

Seventeen-year-old Kyle Vandell switches between wrenches and computers, depending on where he is fixing cars.

Kyle, an intern at American Service Center-Mercedes-Benz in Arlington, has been tinkering with cars since he was 14. He helped his brother repair a 1969 Camaro and fixed the two Camaros he bought.

“It’s what I always wanted to do, work in the field of mechanics,” says Kyle, who graduated from Yorktown High School in spring, at the end of his junior year.

Participating in summer internships is a way for students like Kyle to gain real-world work experience and develop their career interests.

Kyle learned how to diagnose problems in Camaros by checking the sound and feeling of the engine and how it idled. At American, he is learning how to use computers to make those diagnoses.

“It’s become that complicated; it’s critical to find people who want to come into the industry,” says Stan Rodia, parts and service director at the service center. “With the computer boom, many young people decide to go into the computer field that may have gone into the auto industry.”

As a result, fewer people want to be auto mechanics, says Mark Spalding, ASC team leader and Kyle’s mentor. “The ones that do, we get them involved and successful in the business,” he says.

One way is through Automotive Youth Educational Systems, a two-year program that includes a full-time summer internship after high school students’ junior years. Students are paired with certified technicians from service centers such as American. The technicians mentor and train the students in car service and repair, overseeing their work as they learn to take on more responsibilities.

“They are taken by the hand and led through the business,” says Edith Allyn, career and technical education coordinator for Stafford County Public Schools, which offered the AYES program for the first time this summer. “They progress to being more independent, but it is always under the eye of the mentors.”

Another summer internship program offered in the area is the Summer Economics Institute, a paid internship sponsored by Alexandria City Public Schools, St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School and the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.

Over the summer, the institute gave 22 rising seniors from private and public schools in Northern Virginia an opportunity to learn about the workplace and relate it to their economics and business studies. The students interned four days a week for six weeks at businesses and agencies, took field trips and attended business presentations.

“It gives high school students an opportunity that many times is reserved for college students or beyond,” says John Porter, principal at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria.

Internship director Jack Henes considers the internship to be “a five- or six-year head start” for students. “It helps them think about what they might want to study in college,” he says.

For instance, 17-year-old Roger Tripp McLeod, a student at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, wanted to learn more about working in business, which he is considering for a career.

“It provided me a way to test the skills and knowledge I hopefully gained in school and [to gain] practical hands-on experience in the real world,” says Tripp, who interned at the Washington Network, a phone and computer networking company in Alexandria.

Likewise, college students participated in other types of summer internships in the area to explore careers at businesses, government offices and nonprofit organizations.

“This is the hub for internships,” says Mark Kenyon, program director for experiential learning at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Twenty-year-old Michael Boswell, a rising junior at Georgetown University in Northwest, spent the summer interning in the office of Rep. Lane Evans, a Democrat from Mr. Boswell’s home state, Illinois. From April to July, he responded to constituent mail, conducted research and worked on special projects.

“I was happy to be going to work every day, even though I wasn’t getting paid. It was definitely a good switch-around from schoolwork,” says Mr. Boswell, a science, technology and international affairs major planning to pursue a career in foreign service or politics. “I learned a lot about the political process and how a bill gets written and passed.”

At Montgomery College, students can intern at the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress during the summer, fall and spring terms. This summer, three students interned at the Library of Congress and one at the Smithsonian, working eight to 20 hours a week and writing reports on their experiences.

“This gives them an opportunity not only to understand the operation of the most prestigious facilities in the world; they also have an opportunity to make network contacts, to speak with the curators, to learn from their expertise and to attend internal events and lectures,” says Harold A. Hultman, professor and internship coordinator at Montgomery College in Rockville.

Rama Assaf, 21, a summer graduate of Montgomery College, interned in the paleobiology department at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, pursing her interest in biology. She plans to study bioinformatics once she finishes her bachelor’s degree.

“There, I was doing research and was completely behind the scenes of the museum,” she says. “I loved learning because it was completely new for me.”

Montgomery College offers additional internship opportunities through some of the school’s departments and the Cooperative Education and Internship Program, a collegewide internship source that offers credit for semester-long internships related to students’ majors. This summer, 17 students participated in the program.

“It’s not only the work experience they gain on the job, but there’s another component that will help them develop the skills they need to help them get the job they want,” says Angela Rice Beemer, internship program director.

Mandira Sareen, a 29-year-old interior design student at the college who is originally from India, is interning until Aug. 30 at Ancient Rhythms, an interior design showroom in Bethesda that imports items from the Far East. She switched her focus from acrylic painting to environmental design with the hopes of co-owning a company with others in related fields.

“You learn a lot more when you’re working in the field and you see the bigger picture,” Ms. Sareen says. “You’re testing and experimenting.”

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