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Lynchburg students explore careers before graduation with new internship program

Lately, Heritage High School senior Micah Thomas has been contemplating what he wants to pursue after graduation.

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Beacon of Hope interns participate in a “bot war” at Framatome that combines electrical, mechanical and software engineering.

Before the end of his junior year, he applied for a newly launched internship program run by Beacon of Hope, a nonprofit which works with Lynchburg City Schools to ensure each student attains secondary education.

Over the summer, he spent three weeks working with the Lynchburg-based North American headquarters of nuclear-services firm Framatome learning about what the company does and how engineering works.

“This opportunity really shed a light and gave me an opportunity to discover what I really wanted to do,” he said. “It was a very interesting experience.”

The internship program was open to E.C. Glass and Heritage high school students who were at least 16.

After word spread throughout the schools, 90 students applied for 34 open spots within 13 partner companies, including Jamerson-Lewis Construction, Academy Center of the Arts, Framatome, Centra Health, CB Fleet and Lynchburg’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism as well as the city’s public works department.

Laura Hamilton, executive director of Beacon of Hope, said the idea came from a conversation within the board of directors who wanted a pipeline of students to come from high school directly into the workforce and fill open jobs. But companies were complaining that these kids weren’t prepared.

“They don’t know how to send an email, how to dress, talk like an adult and are just launched into it. Of course, they aren’t going to be successful,” Hamilton said.

In an effort to eliminate this issue, the nonprofit created a three-week internship for students who would work for pay — $13 an hour — within these various companies and explore career options.

Beacon of Hope created an application that wasn’t merit-based and didn’t take grades into account, receiving applicants with GPAs from a 0.9 to a 4.5.

The students ranked the top three businesses they wanted to work with and were placed.

“It was almost like a college rush match,” Hamilton said. “And almost everybody got where they needed to be.”

Leading up to the internships, students spent a week at Beacon of Hope getting headshots, creating a LinkedIn profile and resumes, learned conflict management and how to send thank you emails.

Hamilton said by the end of the week, they had a toolbox to be successful.

“And they face real-world stuff,” she said. “Some went straight to work, like at Jamerson-Lewis, they built a hangar at the airport. Others rotated different positions.”

She said it was fun to help usher the students into the real world.

“We had several businesses calling us being like, ‘Oh my God, these kids are more prepared than some of the adults coming in,’” she said. “That feeling was great, but it wasn’t all roses and unicorns. But at the end of the day, these are our most engaged kids in the schools right now. They’re showing up, their grades are going to be better, I know it.”

Kristin King, vice president of human resources at Centra Health, said the decision to host four of the students over the summer was an easy one. King said the health care system is open and welcoming to experiences that allow people to shadow or volunteer to learn about the various clinical and non-clinical positions available.

“When you look at workforce planning, that really starts all the way at the student level when the students are starting to prepare for their potential future careers,” she said. “We thought it was an opportunity to really allow these students to come in that are just starting to form ideas around career planning.”

The four students spent three weeks rotating between Lynchburg General Hospital and the Pearson Cancer Center learning about patient nutrition, nursing, lab work and patient registration.

“So they could travel around to the different areas and then at the end, ideally come back with even a better, maybe not final idea, but have a better idea of what different career options are available,” she said.

Framatome hosted 10 interns and, split into three teams, they participated in a Zumo Bot war competition. Each team was paired with a Framatome engineering mentor and the exercise combined electrical, mechanical and software engineering.

“Internships — at both the high school and college level — are an important program for Framatome to develop a pipeline of emerging talent for the future of our company and our industry,” Denise Woernle, vice president of communications and marketing, said in an email. “As nuclear energy gains momentum as a key player to meet our nation’s clean energy goals, the industry is bursting with opportunities within the existing fleet and advanced reactors/new builds. We must attract developing talent and early career candidates to ensure we have a robust and diverse talent pool. Working with universities ‘local’ to our sites also allows us to attract talent and help develop potential employees that may be inclined to stay and integrate themselves into the areas where we live and work. Framatome is enthusiastic about creating these meaningful internships to build our future workforce in Central Virginia.”

Thomas said he felt like the experience really helped him decide what he wants to do after high school and what he wants to study in college.

“It was a lot of fun, and also a great learning experience of how the different fields of engineering come together and function together,” he said.

Like Thomas, Camden Roberts, another senior at Heritage, said he was undecided about what he wanted out of a career, but he wanted to explore a company that did design work and was creative. So he spent three weeks with leather goods creator Moore & Giles.

Roberts learned the basics of leather and leather-making and made a fanny pack and belt.

“I realized I’m now interested now in sewing, which is something I never knew I liked,” he said. “I learned about how work can actually be fun and not just you go to work and it’s draining.”

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