Charles Rivas and Edilawit Teklehaimanot, interns in Urban Alliance-Inova partnership.
Photo by Shirley Ruhe.
It is 2:30 p.m., and Charles Rivas and Edilawit Teklehaimanot have just arrived at Inova Alexandria Hospital to begin their afternoon internships. Both are seniors at T.C. Williams High School in the early school release program and on track to graduate. They are participating in a partnership program between Urban Alliance and Inova. Although Urban Alliance was founded in 1996, its partnership with Inova is new this year.
Through Urban Alliance’s High School Internship Program in partnership with Inova, students receive a nine-month paid internship with intensive professional job roles and life skills training. Emily Rogers, Communications Director for the Urban Alliance, says “There is a lot of support for students at the low end, and for the super achieving, but not much for those in the middle with all of the talent and drive but no chance to showcase it. We go after that group.”
She adds, “We work with the schools with the greatest need for paid internships.” Currently there are 21 high school seniors from Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax working in Inova clinics, hospitals and administrative offices.
Rivas says he started his nine-month internship Nov.18, 2019. He works in Inova Patient Financial Services four days a week after school until summer when he will work full time until July. “When I arrive, I sort patient mail and then I void checks the rest of the afternoon. I have learned a lot about the revenue stream and how health care works.” He says this has probably changed his thoughts about his possible future as a construction worker into a career in the financial field.
Teklehaimanot began her internship Nov. 22 and likewise will participate in the program until July. When she arrives in Human Resources where she is assigned, Teklehaimanot checks her emails to find out if her three coworkers have any requests for her assistance. This could be entering files in the HR log, writing termination letters or organizing files. She says, “I had to learn Excel and to write email.”
Langi Jackson, HR business partner and one of Teklehaimanot’s coworkers, explains that in addition to her other duties, Teklehaimanot acts as receptionist in the afternoon, greeting visitors and directing them to where they need to go. “And she is helping prep for a big accreditation project by making sure the employee data is up to par.”
Teklehaimanot says she learned about this program from her sister, who had an internship two years ago. “If I hadn’t been in this internship program, I maybe would have been working at McDonald’s after school. I always knew I wanted to be a nurse and wanted my first job to be a professional one.” Rivas adds, “It is good for resume building.”
Rivas says his friends work in restaurants after school, too, and he probably would have been at home watching television. Instead he has learned professional skills from the training workshops which he attended before the internship began and from the help of his mentor. He said it has opened his eyes to a new possibility.
Rogers says each student is assigned a mentor from the pre work training stage and then the relationship continues with weekly input throughout the internship. The mentors are there for guidance, advice, friendship, answering questions, “telling me what I need to know.” Rogers says, “They are the wrap-around support.”
Rogers explains that part of the program is six weeks of indirect training, sort of a boot camp for students, before the internship begins. They teach a number of soft skills that will be needed in the workplace as well as appropriate professional attire. “And no profanity,” Rivas adds.
At the end of the internship there is a public speaking challenge where the students talk about their experiences, what they have learned, and what they hope to do next. Again, another soft skill, learning to communicate, so important in the workplace.
UA was founded to expand economic opportunity and access to career options for economically-disadvantaged students. They have provided over 400 Northern Virginia students with paid internships and more than 1,350 with workforce readiness training.