A couple of days a week, Tiffany Ladd climbs the steep stairs up to the control tower at Salt Lake International Airport and watches the planes come in.
At 17, Tiffany is already getting a chance to explore whether she really wants to be an air-traffic controller, a career choice she came up with when an Air Force recruiter broke the bad news that she was two inches short of pursuing her original dream, being an F-16 pilot.Although, you will be relieved to learn, she doesn't really control any actual air traffic, she does get to observe and ask lots of questions. She isn't getting paid, but she is getting some answers about her future - through a Kearns High School program called Building the Bridges to Work.
The Kearns program is just one of many efforts statewide to introduce students to the job market while they're still in school - in a more systematic manner than the typical fast-food summer job. It's also part of a statewide push to encourage students to explore career choices before they graduate.
"We're letting them know they're in school to become productive citizens," explains Elaine Burrows, director of the Kearns intern program. Her students have worked with the U.S. Forest Service, with a local veterinary clinic and drafting firm, and have hung out with KTVX sportscaster Steve Brown, who, they were somewhat dismayed to learn, has to do more than just read sports scores on the air.
In fact, finding out a job is not for them can be just as worthwhile for student interns as discovering their life's work. One Kearns High student thought she wanted a career in hematology, until she spent her first 20 minutes at the hematology lab at St. Mark's Hospital and was confronted with the grim reality of blood.
"Being able to explore careers saves them time and money," notes Burrows.
Kim Davis, a junior at Murray High School, worked last winter in the cytogenetics lab at the University of Utah Medical Center. A student in Murray's Autonomous Learners program, Kim knew she was interested in genetics but wanted to find out if she liked working in a laboratory setting.
Kim, who received school credit for her volunteer work, learned how to match pairs of chromosomes for experiments in the genetics of retardation.
Because not all high schools orchestrate work internships for their students, the state-run BICEP (Business Industry Community Education Partnership) program fills in the gaps. BICEP organizes unpaid, ongoing internships for students who have narrowed down their career interests and also arranges for students to shadow employers for just a few hours in careers ranging from auto mechanic to college professor.
This year BICEP also has added on-site seminars for larger groups of students, at a local hospital, a TV station and the Salt Lake County Animal Shelter.
One of the state's oldest and most ambitious intern programs is Highland High School's EBCE (Experience Based Career Education), which aggressively recruits students from classes such as biology and journalism to work at places like local hospitals and newspapers.
This school year, EBCE's coordinators worked with over 60 community resources - from Hogle Zoo to the King's English bookstore - to provide work situations for over 70 students.
Highland senior Kent Hamblin, who worked at both the State Arboretum and the University of Utah's horticultural research greenhouse, found that he learned more about plant biology with his hands in the dirt than he had with just his nose in a textbook. He plans to go on to study environmental physics.
In addition to learning something about a future career, Kent, like other interns, has learned something about the intangibles of being an employee - about being responsible, planning his time, and getting along with bosses and colleagues.
Like other interns, Kent has seen that there is indeed life after high school, and that he can get a head start on it now.
Utah helps kids learn to work, work to learn
In addition to internship programs, which are initiated and run at the school level, the state oversees three programs geared toward helping students learn to work and work to learn:
-Cooperative Vocational Education (Co-op) programs. Highland High junior Matt Platt, for example, receives both pay and school credit for working 30 to 35 hours a week as a cook at the New Frontiers Market and Cafe.
Like other co-op students, Matt must be taking a related vocational class and must be in a job related to his career goal. Matt's goal is to be a world-renowned chef. He says his grades improved this year even though he was working nearly full time.
-The state apprenticeship program, which finds business sponsors willing to hire and train students in one of 800 trades. Before the program was begun this yea, the average apprentice in Utah was 28 years old, notes Ken Hennefer, a specialist with the State Office of Education.
"If we can help a kid identify what he wants at 16, we can cut off 10 years of holding time," notes Hennefer.
-"Storefronting" programs geared to students on the verge of dropping out of school. "If a student opts not to continue his education, rather than have him drop into nothing we encourage him to do this," explains Mike Marelli, vocational director of the Salt Lake City School District.
Storefronting students receive intense training in general employability skills and are then placed in jobs.