District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) high school students have a myriad of objectives to complete during their academic life. There are papers to write, research projects to conduct, tests to take, and so much more, including figuring out what to do after graduation. For many, it means finding a job. Deciding what to do next can often be harder than what they just left behind.
An internship is one of the best ways for students to discover what they’re most interested in pursuing. It’s an opportunity to test possible career paths for a set period of time. It’s a pathway for them to open doors, meet mentors, and even discover opportunities they never knew existed.
One possibility that can help them determine a course of action is through DCPS’ College and Career Programs Division and the Department of Employment Services’ Summer Youth Employment Program’s Career Ready Internship initiative. Prior to the pandemic, the program provided in-person, meaningful, and intentional work experiences to emerging young professionals between the ages of 15-21 years, preparing them for a life of self-sufficiency. After receiving intensive employability skills training, Career Ready interns were exposed to a variety of career fields and received guidance from leading industry professionals. This paid summer internship enabled DCPS students to gain new skills, develop a mindset of excellence, and embark upon a pathway toward future success.
Flash forward to spring 2021. While many national businesses were open, many local businesses were rebuilding, some were only opened part time, and some—that were a staple of the program—shut their doors for good. In order to continue the program, a virtual version would be offered. Thus, a six-week internship program for hospitality career track DCPS students, hosted by Destination DC, was created in hopes of fulfilling that mission. New this year, a wide range of career pathways at the Smithsonian would be featured.
The Smithsonian Institution welcomes over 30 million visitors annually with over 6,000 employees that support its mission. Open 364 days a year, there are many facets of the daily, public-facing work that parallel the hospitality industry including volunteers, marketing, food service, and event planning.
“The Career Ready Internship program allows students to delve into the world of hospitality through individual research, guest speakers, presentations, group projects and more,” said Lisa Waldschmitt, manager of the American Experience Foundation, the 501(c)(3) charity affiliated with Destination DC. “Connecting our students with the Smithsonian brought a fresh and exciting lens to a well-known program and provided them with unparalleled resources, while shining a light on the variety of roles available to them in their own backyard. It’s so rewarding to be a small part of their journey as students gather information about future careers and opportunities, and we look forward to cheering them on as they continue down the road to success.”
For two hours each week, students were introduced to the multitude and variety of Smithsonian-centric jobs. Via an interview in a Zoom webinar, they heard from people across the Institution and their varied stories on how they came to work at one of the largest museum complexes in the world. Many panelists discussed their start at the Smithsonian as interns themselves, a humble beginning mirrored even by that of our own leader, Secretary Bunch. Career Ready interns were introduced to such departments as facilities, exhibits, curatorial, special events, restaurants, and education, to name a few.
Speakers gave advice about job seeking, provided a snapshot of their day-to-day schedules, and answered questions from the group. Alison Romain, a special events coordinator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, described her career trajectory that included a series of mentors along the way that saw great potential for growth in her. She advised students that no matter what position they are in to “always walk with intention because you never know who’s watching." When asked how students should prepare for job interviews, Dr. Monique Chism, Under Secretary for Education, shared that it's important to get to know the organization you're applying to through thorough research of its website and recent news articles, to speak with people who currently work at the organization to learn about their experience there, and to watch videos from organization leadership to learn about how they communicate their organization’s message and goals. Nicholas Dunn, a building manager with the Smithsonian's Office of Facilities Management and Reliability, urged students to seize opportunities to learn new skills and to try not to be intimidated by the job application process, saying "you’ll be surprised the opportunities that are afforded to you [if you put yourself out there].”
Through fun, informative, and interactive games with our moderator, Smithsonian Associates’ Jessica Andrews, they were introduced to marvels of the Institution, from its vast collection of amazing objects to its cutting-edge research. The sessions culminated with presentations of Smithsonian-inspired passion projects. Students could choose from five possible options, including creating their own exhibit from objects found throughout the Institution, creating a marketing campaign for an existing online exhibit, designing a menu for a specific exhibit, and curating a mini collection for one of the two new Smithsonian museums, the National Museum of the American Latino or the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum. Using the Smithsonian Learning Lab, they each created a 60-second presentation to share their projects with Smithsonian staff, who provided feedback. Brigitte Blachère, program manager at Smithsonian Associates commented that “the presentations were fabulous and so creative. I was thrilled to see the effort they put forth. Some of them have a real knack for curating a compelling exhibit.”
Reflecting upon the experience, Victoria, one of the Career Ready student-interns shared, "I enjoyed learning about all the different guest speakers and their roles within the Smithsonian. Even though I grew up in D.C., they taught me things I didn't know about!" The Smithsonian is a big part of D.C., and through this pilot partnership, we hope that these DCPS students were able to see the many possible careers they can pursue right here in their own city.