Shelley Widhalm is a writer for The Washington Times.
Seventeen-year-old Kyle Vandell switches between wrenches and computers, depending on where he is fixing cars. Kyle, an intern at American Service Center-Mercedes-Benz in Arlington, Virginia, has been tinkering with cars since he was 14. He helped his brother repair a 1969 Camaro and fixed the two Camaros he bought.
"It's what I always wanted to do, work in the field of mechanics," says Kyle, who graduated from Yorktown High School in the spring, at the end of his junior year.
Participating in summer internships is a way for students like Kyle to gain real-world work experience and develop their career interests. Kyle learned how to diagnose problems in Camaros by checking the sound and feeling of the engine and how it idled. At American, he is learning how to use computers to make those diagnoses.
"It's become that complicated; it's critical to find people who want to come into the industry," says Stan Rodia, parts and service director at the service center. "With the computer boom, many young people decide to go into the computer field that may have gone into the auto industry."
As a result, fewer people want to be auto mechanics, says Mark Spalding, ASC team leader and Kyle's mentor. "The ones that do, we get them involved and successful in the business," he says.
One way is through Automotive Youth Educational Systems (AYES), a two- year program that includes a full-time summer internship after high school students' junior years. Students are paired with certified technicians from service centers such as American. The technicians mentor and train the students in car service and repair, overseeing their work as they learn to take on more responsibilities.
"They are taken by the hand and led through the business," says Edith Allyn, career and technical education coordinator for Stafford County Public Schools, which offered the AYES program for the first time this summer. "They progress to being more independent, but it is always under the eye of the mentors."
Another summer internship program offered in the area is the Summer Economics Institute, a paid internship sponsored by Alexandria (Virginia) City Public Schools, St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School and the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.
Over the summer, the institute gave 22 rising seniors from private and public schools in northern Virginia an opportunity to learn about the workplace and relate it to their economics and business studies. The students interned four days a week for six weeks at businesses and agencies, took field trips and attended business presentations.
"It gives high school students an opportunity that many times is reserved for college students or beyond," says John Porter, principal at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria.
Internship director Jack Henes considers the internship to be "a five- or six-year head start" for students. "It helps them think about what they might want to study in college," he says.
For instance, 17-year-old Roger Tripp McLeod, a student at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes, wanted to learn more about working in business, which he is considering for a career. "It provided me a way to test the skills and knowledge I hopefully gained in school and [to gain] practical hands-on experience in the real world," says Tripp, who interned at the Washington Network, a phone and computer networking company in Alexandria. …