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High School Students Gather to Kick Off 2017 Summer Internship

Peter Beeler

After a highly competitive application and interview process, 32 students were selected from the Bay Area’s nine counties to participate in the 17th year of the MTC High School Internship Program.  They met each other for the first time at an orientation event on June 23 in Oakland. The high school juniors, seniors and recent graduates will complete up to 250 paid hours of work this summer at agencies in their home counties, then give final presentations to MTC and their peers in August.

Launched in 2000 with a focus on underrepresented minority populations, the program has since helped hundreds of local students acquire valuable, marketable skills while introducing them to lesser-known career options in transportation planning and related fields. Past students have worked in the office and in the field, gaining experience in engineering, software modeling, GIS, community outreach, construction, safety instruction, website management, communications, social media and more.

Tanya Chadha, who is interning with the city of Dublin this summer, just graduated from Mission San Jose High School and will be a freshman at Purdue University this fall. She hopes that experience in public works projects this summer will jump-start her career in engineering.

Each student will have a mentor as a guide for their summer work. Mentoring agencies include public transit agencies, city and county planning departments, and public works agencies throughout the Bay Area, such as VTA, STA, the City of Larkspur, the Alameda County Public Works Agency and the Presidio Trust.

At the student orientation event on June 23 in Oakland, Nick Roethel, MTC technology services director, kicked off the morning with a welcome and background information on MTC and the larger context of transportation issues in the Bay Area. Roethel was an intern himself in high school, and he shared stories from his internship at GE Medical, delivering advice on how to make the most of the internship experience while keeping an open-minded, humorous perspective on the workplace and adulthood in general.

Robin James and Ann Macauley from MTC’s Human Resources department also spoke to the students about their upcoming jobs and emphasized the unique opportunity to develop relationships with the multiple agencies involved in the program. The speakers emphasized the importance of clear communication, asking questions and meeting personal goals. The students learned about their time sheets and workplace expectations, and mentors and parents in attendance also offered advice. “Just see if it’s really what you want to do,” one parent offered. Even if an internship does not lead to a direct career path, she explained, “you’ll gain valuable information either way.”

Sabrina Ghashehbaba from San Jose is going to be a senior at Pioneer High School this year and is working for the County of Santa Clara this summer. Ghashehbaba wants to study political science and looks forward to getting a first taste of workplace experience this summer at her job.

“We often see an amazing transformation over the course of the summer,” said MTC Recruiting Manager Ann Macaulay. “At the orientation in June, the students tend to be shy and a bit nervous about what they’re going to encounter at their jobs. But at the closing session, they are bursting with pride about what they’ve accomplished, and with confidence in their ability to communicate about their experience in front of their peers, supervisors and mentors.” 

After the speakers, everyone in attendance played a collaborative game of interview BINGO that allowed them to relax and talk. Game squares posing questions like “Who bikes or walks to school?” “Who started a Safe Routes to School or similar advocacy group?” and “Who wears glasses?” allowed the students and mentors get to know each other.

Ken Der (left) and Kristin Wu from Alameda County will both be interns at the city of Hayward this summer.

Kristen Wu and Ken Der from Fremont will be working together at the city of Hayward this summer. Wu just graduated from Irvington High School and will attend UC San Diego in the fall. She looks forward to gaining experience in the transportation side of structural engineering, which is only one of many career options she is considering in civil engineering, she explained. She is heavily involved in music and dance, including marching band, the trumpet, percussion, piano, ballet and Chinese folk dance.

Der, a rising senior at the Alameda Science and Technology Institute, also wants to explore civil engineering in college and already boasts a bit of a background in transportation. He studies the routes and operations of his local transportation system, AC Transit, and is a big fan of transit in general. “I’m also a big fan of education,” he explained, and he knows that education, transportation and equity intersect. “I want to have an influence on the educational development of school children,” he explained, “to ensure that children of all backgrounds can succeed.”

After lunch and a group photo session, the students left ready to start their jobs. They will be meeting again in August to give final presentations about their internship experiences. 

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