Hayes Freedom High School senior Mitch McKowan couldn’t figure it out, and he couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t figure it out.
The conundrum occurred a few months ago, when McKowan was counting pipes for his internship at Advanced Drainage Systems in Washougal. The pipes were stacked in a staggered configuration, and ADS shipping and receiving manager Jay Christ gave McKowan a formula that would allow the high school student to determine the total number of pipes without having to actually count each and every one.
No matter how hard he tried to understand it, the formula just didn’t make sense to McKowan.
For a teenager who prides himself on his math skills and mind for numbers, not being able to crack the formula proved frustrating.
“I remember leaving there thinking, ‘I can’t believe I couldn’t figure that out,'” McKowan said.
But Christ had given the Camas teen a “cheat sheet” to take home and memorize.
“I looked down at my cheat sheet and said, ‘OK, I got it figured out now,'” McKowan said. “Something clicked in my head, and I walked in the next day and had it down 100 percent.”
McKowan’s epiphany is exactly the kind of breakthrough moment the Camas School District (CSD) internship program is constructed to deliver.
The program, which grew out of Camas High School’s Math Science Technology (MST) Magnet Program, has included hundreds of students and several dozen local businesses over the past several years.
“A benchmark of MST is that every student has an internship,” said Derek Jaques, Camas High School’s career technical education director. “Seven years ago, when I was new, our principal said that what’s good for the magnet kids should be good for all kids, and we started to work to (expand) those opportunities.”
About 55 Camas students are performing internships this year for a variety of area businesses, including ADS, SEH America, Nathan Loren State Farm Insurance, Oregon Health Science and University (OHSU), Underwriters Laboratories, Rebound Physical Therapy, CID Bio-Science and Hewlett-Packard (HP).
Several types of internships are available, including research and virtual opportunities; externships, which last for a shorter period of time than traditional internships; and one- or two-day job shadows. The district itself even offers opportunities such as website maintenance and laptop repair.
“Our goal is to provide students with opportunities,” Jaques said. “The percentage of students that have jobs has dropped dramatically in the last 20 years. There are soft skills that they’re not learning. It’s critical to work with students to develop those skills before they get out of high school, and (internships) are one way to do that.”
To that end, the students are prepared to be ready for the entire employment experience. They work on their interview skills. They work on their resumes. They learn how to network and present their work to small and large audiences. They even learn how to dress appropriately.
“I have community volunteers come in and teach them how to tie a tie,” said Kelly Johnson, a former Wafertech employee who left a 30-year career in the semiconductor industry last fall to become a career and technical education teacher at Hayes Freedom. “What I love about that is if you ask somebody how they learned to tie a tie, there’s always a story behind it. Always. I want Hayes to be the answer to that question for my students. It gives them a lifelong skill.”
Internships give ‘more realistic picture of what’s expected’
Jaques, Johnson, CHS teacher Brianna Abraham and other district employees establish relationships with interested local companies, then advertise the details of the program to students and work out the details of the internships. Jaques said a large amount of students from clubs such as CamTech and Integrated Arts and Academics have shown interest in internships over the years.
Most of the internships are conducted during the summer months, but not all of them; for example, participating students at Hayes Freedom High School perform their duties during school hours.
The internships give students “a more realistic picture of what’s expected” after high school, Johnson said.
“It creates a different type of culture, a culture of work preparedness,” Johnson added. “(If I can) achieve my goal of improving the work ethic at the school level, when the young people are hitting the businesses they’re not in culture shock and fail.”
Johnson hopes to leverage the “pro-community” mentality in Camas-Washougal to expand the network even further in the future. Several of his students are or were working with community members and business owners on other types of projects that could lead to internship opportunities in the future for other students.
“That’s what’s impressed me the most – the community support of the business and the internship programs,” Johnson said. “Almost anybody I’ve talked to is like, ‘Yeah, OK. What do I need to do?’ I think it’s a great program. I’m glad to be part of it.”
Eli Lawrence, like McKowan, interned at ADS this year. Before the internship, the Hayes Freedom senior never had a job or an interview. He said he learned a lot of things at ADS that he can apply to future job situations.
“We prepared for interviews for ADS and that helped dramatically,” Lawrence said. “When I went in to interview at Taco Bell, I wasn’t anxious. I didn’t have any issues and it went amazing. I think that if I didn’t have that work experience that I got at ADS, I wouldn’t be as comfortable with myself working.”
Lawrence said he would recommend the internship program to his peers.
“It’s an amazing, wonderful learning experience,” he said. “It’s very important for people to have opportunities like this. I’m very thankful that I got this opportunity. It did a lot for me.”
Lawrence will participate in another internship this summer through the Educational Service District 112 (ESD 112), the SummerWorks program. After high school, Lawrence said he hopes to land a janitor position within the Camas School District and would like to pursue a professional kickboxing career.
At ADS, students work on ‘real life’ problems
ADS plant manager Chuck Richards approached Hayes Freedom’s principal, Amy Holmes, and teacher Scott Culbertson two years ago to talk about integrating student interns into his business.
“We can give them a different perspective than a teacher can. If he or she is not doing the job, we can say, ‘Hey, you need to focus here. You’re looking at an opportunity, and you’re wasting it,'” Richards said. “(We want to) give them some confidence and let them know they can do something, because a lot of times those kids don’t have enough confidence in themselves, so they act out.”
Three students interned at ADS during the 2017-18 school year. One of those interns, Hailey Soule, now works part-time at the Camas business.
Earlier this school year, Lawrence, McKowan and Maxwell Fassett spent three months at ADS, working in the freight, shipping/receiving and production departments.
“They complete the process and we can watch their skills build,” Christ said, adding that the interns go through all the steps it takes to manage, ship and produce inventory at ADS. “It’s interesting to watch them build their skills and apply what they learned over the last four weeks or eight weeks.”
The interns have been immersed in what Richards calls “real world experiences.” After some training, they performed supervised tasks that directly impacted the company in practical ways.
Production manager Dave Young added that employees don’t change the way they work when the interns are present.
“If I have something going on, or if I have a meeting, the (interns) just come along,” Young said. “They’re involved in whatever’s happening. We’re just showing them what we do.”
Young said it takes time to help the interns, but that it benefits the company in the long-run.
“We get to interact with people that we’re going to try to hire down the road,” Young said.
The interns were forced at times to deal with tense situations during some of those real-world experiences, but said they usually found a way to accomplish their goals.
“With (freight supervisor Howard) Hawk, we would get a set of product, and I’d have the code and we’d turn that into an order pool,” Lawrence said. “We’d send it over to another program, and we assigned the drivers their loads. When we first did that, it was real confusing, but (Hawk) started to let me do it more and more on my own, and then one day he said, ‘I’ll be right back. You do everything.’ It was really stressful, because it was like, ‘He just put me in charge of this, and if I mess up, this is going to be big.’ But I went through everything and I did it right, and that was something I felt good about.”
For Richards, the program has developed into something “so much more successful” than he thought possible.
“It’s just a big deal to us,” Richards said. “Frankly, the fact that we’re able to help those kids develop skills is to me worth its weight in gold. This has a positive impact on us. I couldn’t be happier.”
SEH America offers summer internships, apprenticeships
When McKowan finished his ADS internship, he immediately moved on to another internship at Vancouver-based silicon wafer manufacturer SEH America, which for the past eight years has provided internship opportunities to students throughout southwest Washington in conjunction with the Southwest Washington STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Network.
Currently, the Hayes Freedom senior is helping SEH on a research project that is investigating the company’s plastics and metals recycling to see if it can be improved and be more cost-effective.
After graduation, McKowan hopes to stay at the company, which provides a part-time apprenticeship to high school graduates who also take college courses paid for by the company.
“My plan right now is set on SEH,” McKowan said. “Their starting job would be perfect for me — basically they take big pots of silicone and melt them and pull them up into crystals. It’s a real long, cool process. I could work my way up from there. ”
During SEH America’s two-month summer internships, students can learn about things like three-dimensional modeling and gain skills that will help them if they go into STEM-related careers.
“Each project has a different set of learning objectives to it,” said Natalie Pacholl, a training and development specialist at SEH America. “All of the interns get solid communications skills training, learn more about manufacturing concepts … and get safety training.”
Pacholl said the company started the internship with a focus on technical skills, but soon discovered interns liked working beside the adults and feeling like they were a part of something bigger.
“For a lot of them, they haven’t had the experience of working on a team with adults before, and they like it,” she said.
McKowan has made a positive first impression at SEH America, according to Pacholl.
“He is just a wonderful young man,” she said. “He’s so bright, such a go-getter, confident, friendly and professional. I hope he applies (for our apprenticeship program). To be able to connect with young people like Mitch, that’s a benefit for us.”
WaferTech offers virtual internship opportunities
WaferTech, a Camas-based semiconductor manufacturer, began its affiliation with Hayes Freedom in 2015, and has provided virtual internships to six to eight students each year since.
“Our manufacturing supervisors, who all have engineering degrees, set up small projects and coached the kids to give them exposure to what it’s like to work in a manufacturing facility, as well as basic engineering concepts like statistical process control and safety aspects,” said John Megli, WaferTech’s human resources manager.
WaferTech didn’t participate in the internship program this year, but Megli said the company would be open to participating in a similar internship program — whether solely with Hayes Freedom students or students from other schools in the area — in the near future.
“We wanted to do something more meaty because we’re not just trying to train the next people to work for us, but we’re trying to give high school kids an opportunity to see what engineering and the real world is like,” Meglie said. “(With) semiconductors being such a big part of the world we live in, to see how they’re made, it’s important for people to see it exists as a career path.”