Aug. 10-23, 2001
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U.Va. helps teens improve tech skills

By Matt Kelly

Breaking into the job market can be hard to do, but a new town/gown alliance has given some teens a leg up.

Matt Kelly
Network Administrator Aron Teel (left) works step by step through a computer problem with intern Dana Gelb.

This summer the Charlottesville Albemarle School Business Alliance, working with the IT Academy and the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center, sponsored 21 internships in the information technology field for area high school students to learn some jobs from the ground up. The IT Academy was established by CATEC to assist high school students training in the information technology fields to make the transition from secondary to post-secondary education.
Three of the interns worked at U.Va.

Aimee Westcott, who worked for assistant professor Dorothy Vasquez-Levy at the Curry School of Education, said her internship helped her develop new skills and expand her work experience. Part of a team working on a civil rights project Web site, Westcott scanned in information and added audio. She has applied some of her new skills to her own Web page.

Danny Cohen worked at the Medical Center on medical automation research, Web design and digital image projects. He also assisted in a summer robotics camp.

“I started out doing grunge work on a program with robots,” he said. “Then I moved up to doing research they didn’t have time to do.”

He said one project involved printing bar codes on Petri dishes, so he first researched bar codes and their applications.

Cohen said the researchers worked different hours, some late into the night and there would be times when he worked independently.

“It was not really a normal business,” he said. “People just left when their work was done. Sometimes the office was empty and sometimes people would work all weekend.”

Cohen said the internship beefed up his work skills. “I learned to listen to [a variety of] ideas,” he said.

Dana Gelb, who worked with Network Administrator Aron Teel in Madison Hall, produced a computer animation video for an in-house demonstration among his work projects.

“This has enhanced my problem-solving abilities,” he said of his internship. “I have gained confidence because I have put my skills to work.”

Cohen and Westcott agreed that the internships boosted their self-confidence.

“I had to go up to people and talk to them,” Cohen said. “I’m not as shy as I used to be. Because I had to gain information I was forced to be more social.”
Teel said the program was a good experience for him.

“It’s exciting to watch somebody learn,” he said. “When you are struggling through trying to solve a problem and you have someone to talk to, even if they don’t understand it, just explaining it can open the whole problem up for solution.”

Teel, who said he would be willing to take another intern in the future, said it can also be helpful having someone there just questioning assumptions.

“Danny’s internship at Medical Automation Research Center was a valuable experience for both parties,” Sarah Wood, robotics education outreach coordinator, said. “He gained important workplace skills and knowledge about complex medical automation technology while we benefited from his computer and design skills.”

This year was the maiden voyage of the internship program. Lucinda Childs-White, director of staffing for human resources at the University and a member of the CASBA advisory board, said U.Va. had agreed to take one intern. But when some businesses had to withdraw, the University agreed to take more interns, she said.
Departments didn’t take the interns unless they were willing to provide them with the support they needed, Childs-White said. “We didn’t want to place the kids and have them bored.”

As a human resource specialist, Childs-White knows that information technology jobs can be difficult to fill, and the internships exposed the teens to potential job opportunities. She said it also gives employers an opportunity to see what the students offer and for the students to see what the workplace provides.

“There is a shortage of IT workers, so we need to grow our own,” Childs-White said.

She hopes once these students graduate from college they will come back to the community instead of looking for work elsewhere. By building relationships with mentors, this year’s interns can get recommendations and/or the mentors can connect students with employers, she said.

There were 50 students in the IT Academy this year and 84 students are signed up for next year.

In a recent luncheon honoring the students and their mentors, Chris Root, who taught the students in classroom sessions on Wednesdays, said the students were the “best of the best.” He said CASBA was very important because of increasing demands being placed on the schools.


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