By Mary Hursh
For the next several months, patrons visiting the Syracuse-Wawasee Chamber of Commerce will be greeted by Wawasee High School intern Talia Kuhl. She is one of several junior and senior students serving internships with area businesses through the Professional Career Internship program.
“I work at the chamber every morning from 8:30 to l0:30. Then I go back to school and eat lunch and prepare for my engineering, history and Spanish classes. This program is great if students are good at multi-tasking.”
Talia is one of 25 students supervised on the job by Jon Everingham, work-based learning coordinator at Wawasee.
“PCI has been around for over 20 years, but the name of the class has changed multiple times. Ten years ago, Indiana combined I.C.E (Interdisciplinary Cooperative Education) and internships to create Professional Career Internship,” said Everingham.
Through the program, students have an opportunity to gain experiences outside the school walls in related career fields of study as well as to explore career fields they have an interest in through a series of internship opportunities. They can earn up to six elective credits per year. “It is not uncommon to have 80-120 students per year in the program,” said Everingham.
Kuhl begins her day at the chamber after greeting chamber president Renea Salyer and getting a list of tasks to accomplish such as putting information about events into the website, putting up job postings to the website and making videos for the chamber. In between jobs, Kuhl greets visitors and answers the phone. “This internship gives Talia a connection to the community and an opportunity to realize what businesses do,” said Salyer.
“I loved this job just after one day because I felt as if I were treated as an adult, which I like, because I feel respected just like everyone else working here. Renea made me feel like I mattered to the chamber rather than making me feel like they just needed to help me because the school wanted them to. I also love the tasks I do here and although it is kind of crazy constantly, I feel laid back and calm because the working environment is great and welcoming. Nothing is rushed.”
Students can take the PCI class a single trimester or all three trimesters depending on their schedule. Interns are required to work a minimum of l0 hours per week to match the amount of time they are released from school. Kuhl receives a grade for her internship once a trimester. “I fill out a time sheet every week with columns for start time, end time, and total hours and Renea signs it to confirm my hours are correct.” Not turning in a timesheet and not going to the business at all will give a student a zero. Getting fired from the job or getting dismissed from the program automatically means the student fails the class. Businesses are encouraged to pay interns if they are doing work instead of job shadowing. “I use the money the chamber pays me for gas for my 2007 bug that my grandfather bought me. I also save some of the money I make.”
All interns working during periods one and two at a business meet as a class once or twice a month Tuesdays in the Warrior room at WHS and talk about how work is going. “We can discuss any concerns about work or grades we have at that time.” During that meeting, Everingham presents a 20-minute lesson about a specific part of getting a job and gives an assignment such as writing a cover letter for a job. Recent topics have been how to respond in an interview and how to write a resume. Guest speakers are sometimes a part of the meeting. Each student shares an experience he or she had on the job. The last 10 minutes of the class, students bring up their time sheets to Everingham to assign a grade.
“Employers work with me in providing updates and evaluations on the student’s performance on the job. I assign grades to each student based on the number of hours worked and the evaluation from the employer. I make at least one visit to each of our students per trimester but normally I stop in at least twice to check on them and communicate with employers.”
Word around school of how exciting the PCI is influenced Kuhl to be open to an internship. “My counselor told me more about the program and I decided to sign up. My mother taught me that nothing is hard enough to not try my best. She always told me that I could do better and that pushed me to be the best. My mom, Nicole Feldman, and her husband Phil, always make sure I have rides to all my events and have money to participate. They both remind me how strong I am.” Ervingham said he knew Kuhl had done well in high school. “She has a true desire to be the best at whatever she does, and this internship will give her an opportunity to really make an impact on our community.”
Extracurricular activities are a big part of Kuhl’s life. She does gymnastics, volleyball, track and plans to try out for softball. She has also worked on the school yearbook and newspaper. Currently she is taking engineering, agriculture, and business classes in preparation to applying to Purdue for engineering in 2022. She is currently taking her math classes through Purdue. “I am good at math. The numbers just click for me.”
“I am learning how to cope with working and doing my school work and playing sports and hanging out. I am scheduling my life.”