High School internship program grows to include 80 businesses

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The Noblesville High School internship program, which started with about 20 students and a handful of local businesses a few years ago, is exceeding school officials’ expectations with its surprising growth.

The program got off the ground in January 2013 as a test run with 22 students, but the success of the short trial convinced school district administrators to hire a full-time coordinator and officially launch it the following school year.

Since then, the program has consistently grown in the number of students participating and the number of businesses involved.

This academic year, more than 200 students were placed at 76 organizations and companies. For the 2016-17 year, more than 230 students and more than 80 businesses are signed up.

“It is kind of seen as a role model for the state of Indiana,” Noblesville Schools spokeswoman Marnie Cooke said of the program. “I think there’s some energy in thinking about how to replicate this.”

The students work about 15 hours every two weeks over the full school year to accommodate the high school’s block scheduling. The program includes businesses in a wide range of fields, including hospitals, tech firms, restaurants and bakeries, law offices, religious institutions and government.

“Every year we gain people,” said Susan Wiersema, who has been the school’s internship coordinator since the position was created in 2013. “And lots of times it’s (through) word of mouth from the business community.”

Wiersema said she initially spent a lot of time cold calling businesses and pitching the idea to executives.

“I didn’t have a playbook,” Wiersema said. “It was a little scary.”

Interns are not paid, which Wiersema said was intentional so students would be more willing to try different career fields. Plus, she knew more businesses would be interested if it didn’t cost to participate.

“We wanted kids following career pathways,” Wiersema said. “We do have kids find out what they don’t like, and that's OK.”

Senior Kristen Tucker has been interning this year with automation technology manufacturer SMC Corp. as a marketing employee. She said the experience has reaffirmed her plans to study business in college and given her a good idea of what it's like to have a career in manufacturing.

“It forces you to look at your future and really figure out what you want,” Tucker said.

Dale Miller, president and owner of Warsaw-based Miller Consulting Group, took his company’s involvement in the program even further and decided to hire four students to work about 10 paid hours per week at his Noblesville office.

“The school has reached out to the business owners and the companies to establish this and said, ‘Here’s your talent pipeline,’” Miller said. “I think it’s a game changer.”

Miller said he decided to pay his interns so they felt like actual employees. Like his full-time staff, the students were given company laptops, software and projects to work on.

“We’re planting the roots for our future employees,” Miller said. “We don’t want to wait until the kids get to the job fair. We want the cream of the crop.”

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