MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND - When the new school year started in September, 16-year-old Aelina Pogosian couldn't wait to tell her friends about the most interesting part of her summer vacation. That would be her RISE internship: working three weeks in the biology lab at Montgomery College.
“A lot of the materials and machinery we used is not given at most high schools, which is really important for me to learn how to use these things,” she said. “And I got to learn a lot at the same time I was able to have a lot of fun. And I met some new people.”
Among those new people was Jennifer Sengbusch, Instructional Lab Coordinator, who worked closely with her.
“At first, working in the lab I had to go over safety rules with her to avoid any injury to herself,” Sengbusch says. “We also went through working with chemicals, making solutions, doing calculations. Then we progressed into doing more complicated things as measuring protein concentrations and doing DNA tests.”
And the internship wasn’t all inside a lab, it also included some animal husbandry experience as well, with the lab's snakes and tortoises.
Real interesting experiences
Aelina is one of more than 400 students from all of Montgomery County's 25 high schools who took part in the RISE program in its first year.
RISE stands for Real Interesting Summer Experience, and those experiences were offered at construction companies, police stations, marketing firms, fire stations, and more. More than140 businesses, government agencies and non-profits stepped up and offered to host the students for the paid internships.
Local activist Will Jawando founded the program, and says it has two main goals. “The first goal is to expose our students to career opportunities early on so they can inform their education or training after high school.”
The second goal is boosting the local economy.
“We said there are 30,000 middle-skill-level jobs here in Montgomery County that are not filled,” Jawando explains. “So how do we also expose them to that there are jobs here in the county that they could be doing in a year or two that pay well and are on career track? So it was also an economic development tool. So it not only benefits the students, but hopefully it benefits the county and the region, if they stay here, they become productive citizens and as taxpayers.”
Local Government Support
The program received partial funding from the Montgomery County Council. Councilman Craig Rice helped secure the money.
“All the time in government, there are always so many needs and so many things that are important, whether it’s our roads or our infrastructure, all the different types of programs that we provide as government, but it is really important to make sure that we’re providing for our future generation,” Rice says.
He stressed that providing high school students with real life career opportunities was a priority. “It’s really something that if we’re going to be serious about being globally competitive, we’re going to be serious about providing a number of different options for our children, we’ve got to make sure that we put our money where our mouth is.”
Active, Curious and Dedicated
Jennifer Sengbusch says RISE gave her a chance to work with high school students who may soon be applying to attend Montgomery College. She found them curious and eager to learn. “I think high school students are more inquisitive" than college students, she observed, "the high school students really ask a lot of great questions.”
She was also pleased to find Aelina, engaged and prompt, always on time. “I didn’t realize that she was arriving an hour early just so she would be on time, that she would be sitting on the end of the hallway and I glanced over and said, ‘What are you doing here?' She said 'I just didn’t want to be late.”
After a successful start this summer, RISE participants and organizers hope the program will expand next year and inspire surrounding counties to offer similar Real Interesting Summer Experiences.