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August 18, 2015

Students in Chicago Gain Valuable Tech Internship Experience

Azzaria intern at IBM_BlogLast week, 90 students across five Chicago Public Schools’ Early College STEM Schools (ECSS) finished their paid, skills-based internships, gaining valuable business and career experience. Funded by a grant from the Chicago Workforce Funders Alliance, CompTIA and its philanthropic arm, the Creating IT Futures Foundation, connected 27 local employers with the students, vetting the students and employers and helping to structure the internships to give the best possible experience to both the students and employers.

During a reception to celebrate a successful first season for the internships, Rukiya Curvey Johnson, Executive Director, STEM Initiatives, Chicago Public Schools, explained how the ECSS program was born out of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s vision three years ago when he saw the P-Tech schools in Brooklyn, NY. He wanted to bring a similar program to Chicago.

“Tonight’s celebration is the moment of fruition from three years of effort. It’s been a labor of love,” said Johnson. “We are preparing our students for the future. Through our schools, students get a chance to explore careers and truly apply their learning. Look around (remarking to the audience at the celebration) and you could be looking at the founder of the next great tech start-up.”

In a panel of students remarking on their internship experiences, Jennifer Stanton, a student at Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy who worked at IBM this summer, remarked, “I’m usually quiet and keep to myself, but this internships helped me learn to communicate. You get to learn new things, meet new people and have a great experience. The internship also proved to me what I’m good at. This (web development) is my passion.”

Also on the panel, Hannah Harris, a student at Michele Clark High School who worked at Cisco, echoed a similar sentiment, “This amazing internship reassured me of my career choice.”

Speaking from the employer side, Kelly Sundberg, academic account manager, Microsoft, commented about the internship program, “To put them in the work place, it gives the students a more realistic expectation of what the career is that they’re pursing and lets them make the best informed decisions as they move forward in their studies.”

Eighty-five percent of the internships were technology-focused, from website consulting and networking to programming and digital media production. For a complete list of the employers and partners involved in the program, click here.

ECSS interns at IBM_BlogWork-based Learning

Chicago has five STEM schools (Chicago Vocational Career Academy, Corliss High School, Lake View High School, Michael Clark High School and Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy) that allow students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. Work-based learning and business partnerships, like summer internships, help students relate their education to current business needs.

Chicago businesses have especially not been able to fulfill their tech hiring needs. According to an analysis of labor market data by CompTIA, Illinois employers posted 53,388 IT job openings in Q2 2015, compared to 28,312 in Q2 2014 – an increase of nearly 90 percent. The large majority of postings – nearly 47,000 – were in the Chicago metropolitan area. 

“IT employers need to expand their workforce pipelines, and students need real-work experiences to help them navigate education and career paths,” said Gretchen Koch, executive director of workforce strategies, Creating IT Futures. “Internships help bridge the connections between students and employers. Our research developed the 4Ps of successful internships and several internship models, showing ways in which any employer can offer valuable internships like the ones with the ECSS students.”

Creating IT Futures is actively looking for more businesses to step forward for this school year to help with mentoring, corporate visits, classroom projects and speaking opportunities. Interested businesses can sign up at:

“For supervisors and managers to see the students in high school as capable of doing this work and, in some cases, exceeding the work college interns are doing, it’s really changing expectations for our students,” commented Charlotte Johnson, manager, corporate citizenship, IBM. “It’s a testament to the fact that students are doing work that’s valuable and creating value for their managers.”

Richard Dominguez, executive director, Literacy Chicago, added, “Their skill level has been very high. They (the interns) know how to work the PCs and web pages, and their knowledge really has brought a lot to the table.”

Student Success

The students in the internships were rising high school seniors who possess a combination of “tech-ready” and “work-ready” skills, and many also are taking college IT courses in one of ECSS’ technology pathways: networking, computer science or web development. As such, they bring a high level of maturity and motivation to their internships. 

Eric Berngen, technology chair at Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy, commented, “It’s been great to see the independence of our students and them getting the projects and just running with it.”

“I most enjoyed running into difficulties when I’m working on a specific task, because it gave me and my partner Raven Lamar to collaborate and share ideas and use our problem-solving skills,” claimed Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy student Jazmine Jordan.

“There’s a saying that if you love your job, you don’t work. I love this (my internship) and waking up and coming here,” said Lake View High School student Michael Aldape who worked at Literacy Chicago this summer.

A short video summarizing the ECSS internship experience is available at: Plus, check out the “shout-outs” from the students to their teachers and employers, and see some of the video and web work the students accomplished during the summer at: