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Perspective | Comets 2 Careers summer internship program: Empowering students to invest in their future

North Carolina’s brand for work-based learning, NC Career Launch, was informally launched in the state in late February. NC Career Launch includes various types of work-based learning such as internships, co-ops, work-based learning courses at community colleges, and fellowships. The different types of work-based learning are offered for both youth and adults. One existing work-based learning program that highlights its advantages for high school students is experiencing great success in Randolph County.

Asheboro High School, located in the heart of North Carolina, has a rich history of providing education for the community since 1950. Asheboro High School is a comprehensive high school with a smaller learning community located at the North Carolina Zoo. Within the school, the Asheboro City Schools Career & Technical Education (CTE) program, called “Comets 2 Careers,” offers career exploration, career development, and work-based learning activities.

Comets 2 Careers specifically targets students who do not have post-graduation plans. As part of the Comets 2 Careers initiative, the 2019 summer internship program was one of Asheboro High School’s most exciting new opportunities last year.

Educators know that students participating in work-based learning gain important employability skills and competencies that are typically difficult to develop through classroom instruction. Students can explore career path, and feel empowered to be successful citizens, workers, and leaders in a global economy. Internships and work-based learning experiences allow youths (ages 16-26) to get an edge in the job market and even network with professionals in the field.

Back row: Frederick Cole Jr., Luna Corona, Jelian Perez-Berrocales; Front row: Sarah Whiteside, Jocelyn Luna-Velazquez, Santiago Sanabria. Courtesy of Stephanie Pitts

The Regional Partnership Workforce Development Board, the NCWorks Career Center-NextGen program of Randolph County, and Asheboro City Schools partnered to launch the Comets 2 Careers summer internship program in July 2019. Asheboro High School staff identified students who were interested in participating in a four-week summer internship. Then, Randolph NextGen staff determined eligibility and enrolled them into the NextGen Young Adult program. Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funds assisted with the wages of the four-week internship for each of the students enrolled. The paid internship lasted nearly a month and gave students opportunities to gain valuable experience.

Employers that partnered with the Comets 2 Careers program included Elastic Therapy, Inc., Energizer, Heart of NC Visitors Bureau, Randolph County Senior Adults Association, and Tot Hill Farm. Asheboro High School and the NCWorks Career Center also collaborated with Randolph Community College to offer a soft skills workshop one day per week of the internship so that the students would not only learn hands-on skills on the job, but also skills and information that would assist them with their employment goals in the future. Students who completed the soft skills workshop earned an Employability Skills Certificate.

Back row: Joanny Cruz from Elastic Therapy Inc., Mark Hensley from Randolph County Senior Adults Association, Amber Scarlett from Heart of NC Visitors Bureau, Alycia Massey from Randolph County Senior Adults Association, Frederick Cole Jr., Luna Corona, Santiago Sanabria
Front row: Donna Wheless from Elastic Therapy Inc., Sarah Testerman from Heart of NC Visitors Bureau, Sarah Whiteside, Jocelyn Luna-Velazquez, Lydia Walton from Energizer, Jelian Perez-Berrocales; Not pictured: Gisselle Chairez-Gonzalez. Courtesy of Stephanie Pitts

Ten students were initially identified by Asheboro High School, and seven of those students were enrolled in the WIOA NextGen Young Adult program. All seven completed the internship and soft skills workshop.

“I had spectacular amounts of fun working during the summer and seeing what higher job opportunities were like,” said student Sarah Whiteside, who was placed at Energizer. “I met amazing individuals who led me in the right path.”

Denise Wright, a supervisor at Energizer, recalled that Sarah was “bright, attentive, and eager to learn new things. She was an integral part of my team, and was able to not only provide data results, but also to develop conclusions and summaries from the data – a beautiful competency.”

Wright added, “Sarah was able to work independently and stay focused on the task at hand; she was a pleasure to coach and work with.”

Two students were able to extend their internship into a work experience at Energizer, because Energizer staff were so impressed with their work performance. 2019 was the first year of this internship endeavor. NCWorks-Randolph and Asheboro High School are hoping they can continue to grow the program and partnership in the years to come.

Annie Izod

Annie Izod serves as the Executive Director of the NCWorks Commission. The commission oversees the state’s workforce development system, recommends policy, and advises the governor, General Assembly, state and local agencies, and businesses on how to strengthen the state’s workforce. In her role as executive director, Izod provides strategic leadership on complex workforce development issues, and leads the research efforts, program evaluations, and strategic and policy analyses related to workforce and economic development in North Carolina.