How To Start A High School Internship Program

This is the first in a series of posts documenting our experience starting a high school internship program.

It’s Monday at 3:15pm, and in roll the newest members of our team: Michael and Erwin. They are our youngest team members and (technically) the least experienced, but they each carry a wealth of knowledge in a certain topic that none of us can match: What it’s like to be a high schooler in 2018.

Interns

Both in their senior year, Michael and Erwin are students at the Urban Assembly Maker Academy in lower Manhattan, a school whose curriculum centers around equipping the next generation of developers, designers, and creators. Motivated by their interest in pursuing careers in design and engineering, they applied and were accepted to ProjectEd’s first high school internship program.

This is the first in a series of posts about how this inaugural internship year goes. Since we don’t have much wisdom yet, we’ll share what we do know: How we started it.

Step 1: Develop an internal working group.

Any company-wide initiative, no matter the size, is hard to do on your own. Developing an internal (read: unofficial) working group is a good way to share the burden and inject some accountability to make sure everything gets done.

Step 2: Get executive sign-off and buy-in.

Your unofficial working group will soon need to become official if you want to get this program off the ground. We lucked out here, since Kate — ProjectEd’s CEO — had voiced interest in getting high schoolers into the office. To get sign-off, include in a brief note to your manager the high-level logistics: hourly rate (yes, you should pay your interns!), length of internship, total cost, and a concrete idea of how you envision using their time. But don’t be afraid to humanize it: You’re bringing in kids to the office to create a learning opportunity for them and for your colleagues. Who could say no to that?

Tools

Step 3: Develop a relationship with a school.

Schools come in all shapes and sizes, and it can be challenging to find the right one. In our experience, it’s helpful to focus on two things: mission and location. UA Maker’s mission closely aligned with ours, and the school seeks industry opportunities for its students. We also sought a school whose location would make for a relatively easy commute for the kids. They are, after all, joining us after a full school day. Once you select the school, reach out to the principal or someone else in the head office. If they don’t wish to serve as the point person, they can point you to someone who will.

Step 4: Create your application.

It can be painful to turn down students, so we worked with our school partner to develop a more limited application process. First, we asked UA Maker to pre-select a group of five to ten students who seemed like they’d be a good fit. Then we created a short application for this small group and brought them in for interviews. While we knew we could only select two of the six students who applied, we thought (and the school agreed) that the interview would be a good learning experience regardless.

Step 5: Make an impossible decision.

We left the interviews in the (un)lucky state of having six phenomenally worthy students. Choosing among them seemed impossible, but we ultimately did so from the vantage point of identifying who we thought we could offer the most to. Some of the kids came off as really capable self-learners, for example; we rationalized that they might be able to pick up on their own what we could have exposed them to.

And you’ve got liftoff! Actually there are a few more pieces here (solidifying the project and mentors, scheduling an HR orientation, ordering IT equipment, etc.), but you get the picture. We’re only in month three with Michael and Erwin, but so far so good. As learning designers, we need the dose of reality of what it’s like to be a student today. We’re learning just as much from them as they are from us.

Have ideas on how to start an internship program with your team? Let us know on Twitter: @_projected! We’d love to hear from you.