The DP: University City program connects high school students with internships

Monday, April 21, 2014

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For Daijon Gibbs, a University City District summer program helped him discover an interest in psychology.

Gibbs, a senior at Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus, is participating in his fourth year of the University City Summer Jobs Program. This initiative connects West Philadelphia high school students with summer internships and prepares them for secondary education and their future careers.

“We’re trying to help students figure out the pathway to where they want to go,” West Philadelphia Skills Initiative Program Manager Sharon Thompsonowak said.

This year, the program is partnering with nine local employers to host one to six students for a six-week internship. These organizations include the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Penn Law School, Drexel University and a local State Farm office.

Gibbs has interned at three different organizations through the program: a communication improvement team, the National Bulletin of Medical Examiners and Drexel. While he doesn’t know where he’s working this summer, he’s excited to continue his professional development.

“The experience that I had taught me how to be able to socially interact not only with people my age but older people who have been in the workforce for 10, 20, 30-plus years,” Gibbs said. “Before the program I was very shy.”

Students work 12 hours a week at their internship, and are paid through a University City District grant.

When not working, the students will take part in UCD’s professional development workshops. Before they start their internships, the students will attend a weeklong job readiness “boot camp.”

Students will also attend seminars on topics such as financial literacy and the importance of networking for two days a week during their internships. The experience also extends to visits to local colleges.

“Our program is a little bit unique because we focus on the professional development,” Thompsonowak said. “We’re looking at effective career planning and networking.”

Of the almost 200 students that applied this year, UCD selected a cohort of 25 current high school seniors. The application required that students submit a resume, report card and essay and go through multiple rounds of interviews.

Thompsonowak added that the multi-hurdle process to be accepted into the program allowed it to be “self-selecting,” so that only students who were willing to put in the work applied to the program.

The Summer Jobs Program is linked to the renowned West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, which provides training for local residents and helps them find employment. In March, the Citizens Bank Foundation presented a $50,000 grant to the program.

“Basically we connect Philadelphia employers seeking talent and West Philadelphians seeking opportunity,” Thompsonowak said.

Students enjoyed both their internships and the program as a whole.

“I really enjoyed it and met a lot of good people and had a really good time with them,” said Nasrin Mani, a senior at Furness High School.

At her internship at ACHIEVEability last summer, Mani helped staff members find new donors to the nonprofit. This summer, she is excited to intern again through UCD’s program.

“I can’t wait for the next step,” she said.