SEH America, ESD enter year three of internship program

Taking online classes

Evergreen High School Counselor Kim Berhow with student Valeriy Gershun. Gershun recently finished an experience-building internship at SEH America. Photo: Buck Heidrick

Approximately two years ago, SEH America formed an internship program that offers high school students the opportunity to see how the things they learn at school, such as math and science, apply to the real world. The third set of students are poised to start their hands-on adventure later this month, and SEH America, high school career counselors and the students themselves consider the program a resounding success.

“This program is a tremendous opportunity for students to come in, take a look, and get some experience,” said Kim Berhow, a career specialist at Evergreen High School.

One of the students Berhow works with, Valeriy Gershun, completed an internship at SEH in December.

“It’s a great experience that boosts your knowledge and helps you figure out what you want to do,” said Gershun.

Ben Bagherpour, vice president of operations at SEH America, considers programs such as SEH’s an important part of the education process.

“Kids learn more effectively when it’s hands-on,” said Bagherpour. “They learn and connect learning to real life and work.”

He also said that the internship program has a ripple effect, where interns talk to other students and generate interest in how math and science are relevant.

Soft skills, too, said Bagherpour, are important – such as critical thinking, problem solving and working as a responsible member of a team. These skills, he said, are not sufficiently taught in our schools, and pose a threat to competitiveness.

“For businesses to expand, we need more educated kids coming out of K-12 that already know math and science, and that have the necessary soft skills, so we can compete and create more jobs,” he explained.

Natalie Pacholl, training program specialist at SEH, said the silicon wafer manufacturer is currently interviewing a total of 15 applicants from Evergreen’s four high schools. The available positions, she said, include projects in information services, engineering, quality assurance, chemistry and facilities.

Stephanie Yong and Amy McKennaStephanie Yong, a junior at Mountain View High School, has applied for one of these positions.

“I’m nervous, but excited,” said Yong. “It’s my first time out in the real world.”

Yong said she enjoys “seeing how stuff works” – evidenced by her success in starting a robotics club this past fall – and “gathering results to interpret what happened.”

Program applicants such as Yong submit a resume, cover letter and a teacher’s recommendation, and complete a personal interview. During the internship, students work 90 hours over a three-month period and receive academic credit for their work. Pacholl said that typical projects include building PCs, developing test plans and collecting and analyzing data for workflow and process improvement.

“The response from participants has been very positive.” said Pacholl. “We’d like to continue with ten to 12 interns per semester.”

“Up to date, we are very impressed with the interns Evergreen School District has been able to place in our program,” said Michael Grossman, who has mentored a number of interns in SEH’s information services department. “They fit in very quickly, improve our department projects and bring that youthful energy we all enjoy.”

Bagherpour, who serves on the local High Tech Council, said several other companies have expressed interest in starting an internship program.

 “Any company – high tech or not – whose workforce includes high school graduates needs to consider an internship program,” said Bagherpour. Not only does it help students, but Bagherpour said it also builds name recognition for the company among the students and school staff. SEH has already hired a couple of former interns, who, said Bagherpour, require less money and effort for retraining. The goal, he said, is to create a workforce that is “ready to go to work immediately.”

Bagherpour said that an important component of SEH’s internship program has been developing a close relationship with teachers and career counselors, and he encourages other companies to do the same.

“Bring teachers to your company and show them what you need,” Bagherpour advised. The construction industry and a precision machining firm, for instance, require different skill sets than SEH. “Work with school districts to make those connections and close those gaps,” said Bagherpour. For example, SEH and the Evergreen School District are partnering to create a materials science class (see sidebar on page 5).

As successful as it’s been, Bagherpour said SEH’s internship program was merely a “drop in the ocean.”

“We need thousands of similar activities,” said Bagherpour. He also stressed that “merely pointing fingers in Washington, D.C.” isn’t going to fix the American education system, which he said was plagued with a high dropout rate.

“We need direct and comprehensive involvement from parents, the school system, local and state government and private industry,” said Bagherpour. “For us to change the system, we need all parties to actively participate and work together.”

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