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Valuable, Virtual Internship

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This summer Project LEARN launched Commencement 2 Careers – Valuable, Virtual Internship

By Emma Murphy

emurphy@ lowellsun. com

Lowell » A new Project LEARN program is giving high school students the chance to gain real-world work experience through local internships even amid COVID-19 public health restrictions.

This summer Project LEARN launched Commencement 2 Careers, a two- month virtual program that teaches students how to build resumes, dress for the job and use essential tools like Microsoft Excel. After learning those skills in the program’s first few

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Lowell High class of 2020 graduates Shaveen Gachau and Stacey McGuire, who have internships through Project Learn’s commencement 2 careers program, chat with Lowell High teacher Kendra Bauer and Project learn executive director LZ Nunn.

Franky Descoteaux, director of the entrepreneurship center @cti, poses with Lowell High class of 2020 graduate Koby Pailin, who has an internship through Project Learn’s commencement 2 careers program. at top, 

Julia Malakie Photos /Lowell Sun

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weeks, participating students then intern for a local participating business or organization.

“ COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted our students and families here in Lowell,” Executive Director of Project LEARN LZ Nunn said in an email. “ The goal in creating C2C was to develop real- world work experience and skill building, in a virtual setting, which our graduates can take into college, career and life experience into the future.”

Available to recent Lowell high graduates and rising seniors, the program paired 40 interns with 13 host sites around the city, including Lowell High School and CTI. The students each received a $ 500 stipend and obtained 45-50 hours of work- based experience.

According to Nunn, the students developed skills in collaboration, team work, workplace communication, presentation, research and MS Office Suite.

Recent Lowell High grads and Commencement 2 Careers interns Shaveen Gachau and Bryan Montal said they appreciated the program for the practical skills it taught them.

“I learned how to be professional and how to use technology to my advantage, especially during this time,” Gachau said.

Gachau, 18, just started classes at UMass Boston, where she is majoring in international relations. Just a week into her freshman year Gachau said she has already used some of the technology she learned to use over the summer.

Montal, 18, jumped at the chance to participate in the program because he wanted workplace experience before starting college this fall. Montal is studying computer science at UMass Lowell.

“ Since I was going into college I wanted experience in any type of workplace,” Montal said. “ I just wanted to get experience at the intern level.”

Both Montal and Gachau interned through Lowell High School working with an English teacher to develop curriculum for the 2020-21 school year.

“ I’ve always seen it as a student but never as a teacher,” Montal said of the curriculum development.

Gachau was able to work with her senior year English teacher, Kendra Bauer, to help develop curriculum. According to Gachau, the interns were tasked with reading “ How To Be An Antiracist” and developing questions and worksheets for Bauer’s incoming students.

For Gachau, the internship came at an opportune time. She was supposed to intern for Lowell Alliance earlier this year, but it was canceled just a few weeks in due to the pandemic.

According to Nunn, Commencement 2 Careers was designed to accommodate students who need flexible schedules and who might have trouble finding transportation to and from their internships.

“ There are other interns who have other jobs and summer school and they’re able to fit time in,” Montal said.

Franky Descoteaux, director of the Entrepreneurship Center @ CTI, learned about the program through Nunn.

“LZ always puts together great stuff,” Descoteaux said. “Even in the pilot stage she’s got good ideas.”

Descoteaux participated as one of the 13 intern hosts and oversaw a team of interns who helped her with research. The Entrepreneurship Center had recently received some grants to connect with small, local businesses and help them through the pandemic.

The center’s interns were tasked with identifying all small businesses in the area, categorizing them by type of business and assign contacts. It was a large task that Descoteaux said would have been a challenge for her to complete without the help of the Commencement 2 Careers interns.

Beyond help completing the project, Descoteaux said she agreed to participate because she enjoys working with high school and college- age students.

“ I love helping young people in particular think about their life and what they create for themselves in their life,” Descoteaux said.

Commencement 2 Careers was funded by the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, a grant from the state and private donors. Currently the organization is looking for funding for the next round of virtual internships.

Moving forward, Nunn said Project LEARN hopes to expand the program to serve over 100 students annually.

Both Montal and Gachau said they would recommend Commencement 2 Careers to other students.

“ If you ever need a referral for a job or another internship they’re very open to do it, they’re very good at answering questions ( about) getting a job or career or getting into higher education,” Gachau said. “ We don’t have a class on how to make your resume better, you don’t have a class that teaches you how to dress; these people are offering it.”

Lowell high class of 2020 graduates shaveen gachau and stacey mcguire, who have internships through project LEARN’s commencement 2 careers program, talk to Lowell high teacher Kendra Bauer. Gachau worked with Bauer, her senior year English teacher, to help develop curriculum. Gachau said the interns were tasked with reading ‘how to be An Antiracist’ and developing questions and worksheets for Bauer’s incoming students