Importance of Internship Programs to STEM Education


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The current pandemic has shown how vital STEM occupations are to populations' health and safety around the world. Because of lockdowns and health mandates, most students have been limited in their hands-on experiences and classroom learning this past year. Nonetheless, it's still important that students with STEM interests maintain their exposure to careers and opportunities in this field.

Internships provide a meaningful way for students to connect their learning with the real impact that a STEM career can have on the real world. Organizations can provide the practical experience that students need to gain the skills and confidence to pursue a STEM profession.

Importance of High School STEM Internships

An internship provides students the opportunity to apply their classroom learning to a practical work setting. Internships can take place during one or more terms and last from several weeks to a few months. Most high school internships occur in the summer, but not in all cases.

The internship's frequency and duration can make a difference in impacting a student. Field trips and guest speakers are important but might not be enough to facilitate a student's interest in STEM beyond high school. Internships can give students repeated exposures to various aspects of a STEM occupation that they might not see on a field trip or hearing a lecture from a guest speaker.

Most students who take part in a STEM internship reap many benefits. One is developing one or more mentor relationships that provide honest feedback, support, and access to future opportunities. Another advantage is transitioning from an academic to a professional setting, giving many students their first look at all the positive and negative aspects of a real job. Finally, listing an internship on a college application can provide a student a competitive edge.

Finding a High School Internship in STEM

Internships aren't just for college students. Although not common everywhere, meaningful internships are possible to find for students who have the maturity and motivation to seek them out. Startup companies are excellent places to start, especially in fields like computers and technology, clean energy, engineering, and robotics.

Having a strong interest and some knowledge in a STEM subject is a requirement along with proficiency in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Strong writing and social media skills are a plus.

The most successful high school students in STEM internships have a sturdy work ethic, serious focus, and realistic expectations of what they'll get from the internship. These students also tend to possess intellectual curiosity, maturity, and good time management skills. Most internship students get assigned to a specific project, so finishing projects and seeing things through are other essential attributes.

Some high schools have internship programs that help students find opportunities. The Center for Research in Engineering, Science, and Technology (CREST) at Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix, Arizona, has such a program. The required 200-hour internship is one of the four-year CREST program's main features, enabling students to learn about the world of work and see how they can apply their STEM interests.

If your school doesn't have an internship program, you can find opportunities elsewhere. A web search can yield many results, including websites that provide lists of internships. You can also search for internships with established institutions like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Try searching other job sites like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or Indeed and use the search term "high school internships."

Besides web searches, you can talk to your high school guidance counselor or STEM teachers about opportunities. Don't forget to look at bulletin boards for internship announcements and summer programs. If there's a company in your area specializing in a STEM field, see if they offer internships to high schoolers. Local colleges and universities might also have internship openings.

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