By Alison Fetherstonhaugh.
How did I spend my summer as a 17-year-old? Teaching young girls how to kayak in a freezing cold lake at an overnight camp in northern Ontario. How is Leslieanne John, a 17-year-old rising fourth-year student at Brooklyn, New York’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), spending her summer? She’s completing an eight-week internship with the Center for Applied Insights – a thought leadership team within IBM. I’ve had the privilege of serving as Leslieanne’s manager and mentor this summer, and can attest to what a truly invaluable experience this has been for both her and our team at IBM.
P-TECH is an innovative grades 9 through 14 school from which students will graduate with an Associate in Applied Science degree that will enable them to gain employment in the IT industry or continue their studies at a four-year college or university. Leslieanne is a star student P-TECH – from which she plans to graduate in four years instead of six – and aspires to attend an Ivy League institution. President Obama even commended her in a speech when he visited the school last October.
As articulated by its founding principal Rashid Ferrod Davis, P-TECH’s overarching goal is simple: “My hope is that when students walk away from P-TECH, they are better prepared for jobs that have not even been invented yet.”
Will P-TECH’s focus on both academics and workplace learning better prepare Leslieanne for when she begins her career? Absolutely! Based on her performance at IBM this summer, when Leslieanne steps into her first full-time position, she will already have proven herself a valuable team member.
Aware of Leslieanne’s maturity, comfort with public speaking and writing skills, we assigned her an exciting internship project – interviewing senior IBM executives for a Center for Applied Insights blog series on Cognitive Computing, Cloud Computing, Human Resources and Marketing. Leslieanne prepared extensively for her assignment by researching each of the executives and their areas of expertise, and then constructing thought-provoking, relevant questions for them. Through this process of researching and interviewing our top leaders, Leslieanne learned not only how technology has transformed a variety of areas, but also how IBM has positioned itself to address these areas of change. Leslieanne’s understanding of technology and its global role is sure to help her regardless of her career path.
Read Leslieanne’s blogs, and you’ll see that she’s a fantastic writer. Leslieanne is among the top writers in her class at P-TECH, but writing in a business setting was a new challenge for her. By writing emails and summarizing the key points of her executive interviews, Leslieanne worked hard to transform her writing skills into the simple, direct and informative style that we all hope to encounter in business writing. In the end, Leslieanne made noticeable improvements in her skills during her short time with IBM.
But by far the most beneficial aspect of Leslieanne’s IBM internship was her exposure to a real-world workplace. Workplace learning both in summer internships and throughout the school year is a core component of the P-TECH curriculum. The chance to learn professional behaviors from mentors and role models – in addition to the challenges of elevated work standards and deadlines – represents a substantial educational advantage for Leslieanne and her P-TECH peers.
Leslieanne believes the most valuable lesson she learned at IBM this summer was how to accept criticism and ask questions. As a top student and self-starter, Leslieanne was not used to receiving such forthright evaluation of her work. She admitted that her feelings were somewhat bruised after she received critical feedback on her first blog post. But by understanding the importance of learning from others and using constructive criticism to improve the quality of her work, Leslieanne acquired skills that will benefit her for years
Alison Fetherstonhaugh is an Associate Consultant with the IBM Center for Applied Insights.