“I feel like I have a jump start in the veterinarian field because of the internship. I have been able to get a feel for what the job really is,” says Brooklin Morrow, high school intern for Minson’s Veterinary Hospital, Duncan. “The program has given me the opportunity to really make up my mind about and confirm this career path.”
Morrow is one of many high school students participating in Duncan’s Career Pathways Program.
Pathways to Future Careers Internship Program started at Duncan High School in 2017 and has positively impacted 108 students within this two-year period. As a result of Oklahoma House Bill 2535 signed into law in 2016, which gave high school elective credits for internship, mentorships, and apprenticeships, Jeannie Bowden, Business and Industry Specialist, with DAEDF (Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation) introduced the potential next step of high school interns to the program and helped to connect Duncan Public Schools, and area business leaders and employers.
Duncan High School, under the direction of Lesa Hefner, Pathways to Future Careers Internship Instructor and Coordinator, set up the structure within the school for the students to receive an elective credit along with classroom instruction and began reaching out to businesses to formalize their participation.
Hefner worked with students to decide what internships they’d be interested in and then she contacted a local business in the field the student is interested in to first see if the business would be willing to partner with them to provide this opportunity for the student. Hefner then usually schedules a face-to-face meeting with the owner/manager of the business to discuss the program and answer any questions that the business might have.
To get the program off the ground, the participating businesses determined what their internship criteria would be and what the intern would learn at their business. Each business entity worked through their organization to set up their internships.
“The goal of this program is not to add to the workload of the business, but to allow the business to share in the shaping of these young future workforce members, while possibly creating a pipeline for future employees,” Hefner. “If the business is interested in partnering with the school for this program, the coordinator then schedules an interview with the business for the student. If the student is offered an internship by the business, they spend two class periods, which is about an hour and a half of actual on-site time, with the business four days a week.”
Hefner meets with each student to discuss their interests and different activities and assignments are completed to identify the future career interests and goals of each individual student and then contacts are made to secure a business partner that can offer learning and networking opportunities within that career pathway. Students have the ability to “try out” a career before they invest time and money in training and higher education to ensure that the training or major they select is suited for them.
Although students have limited time at their internship location, they are learning employability skills, team work, and critical thinking.
“I have a whole new perspective of safety after being an intern with Halliburton. They have given me the opportunity to have hands-on learning and they allow me to help with problem solving and really listen to my ideas when an issue comes up,” says Matthew Martinez, high school intern for Halliburton. “I am still undecided about my future career, but this experience has given me information about the possibility of engineering as a career. The people of Halliburton have been great about encouraging me in this path.”
“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but this opportunity has given me the confirmation that this is the right path for me,” says Marina Rodrigues, high school intern, Duncan Regional Hospital. “I was concerned about committing to a career that was going to take so much education but now I am confident this is what field I want to be in.”
Any school in Oklahoma can have a successful Career Pathways program from Pre-K through 12th grade, which is beneficial to both students and businesses. Students can learn about careers and businesses through okcareerguide.org and other resources. However, in order to have high school internships, the community must have businesses for the students to intern with. Hospital, manufacturing, dentists, funeral homes, main street programs, courthouse offices, business offices, insurance, physical therapy, scientific businesses, and prosthetic businesses are just some of the many different types of internships available.
“The Oklahoma skills gap forecast for 2025 suggests that the largest segment of available jobs will require an associates degree, certificate, or credential. The ever-changing world of technology impacts the businesses of today and tomorrow. Successful students will be the students that are life-long learners with stackable skills. The high school internships have enhanced community conversations in a way that we have never communicated before. There is a workforce enthusiasm and a fresh perspective of work and education,” Bowden. “It is community leadership and partnership that will continue to provide sustainability and future growth.”