Striking it Successful

Internships Afford Golden Opportunities for Gold Country High Schoolers

News Center – April 2021


A leg up can go a long way. And with a new plan in place to connect students to CTE internships, the Nevada Joint Union High School District (NJUHSD) is helping students make the leap to making a living.

Generation Z is dealing with a global health crisis on top of an unprecedented economic downturn… right at the beginning of their professional lives. Pandemic-proof high school internships, the District hopes, will provide a competitive head start when it comes to applying to college and careers.

“Since the senior project is a graduation requirement, 100 percent of graduates will have completed internships in some form,” explains Aurora Westwood Thompson, Director of Career Technical Education and State/Federal Programs.

Even amid the ongoing health crisis, every single senior at Nevada Union and Bear River High Schools managed to participate in on-ground and virtual internships aligned with their chosen career pathways, amounting to some 2,600 total students.

The District left no student behind, thanks to a Strong Workforce grant which provided new internship coordinators to connect high schools in the region to work-based learning opportunities.

“These work-based learning coordinator positions have really bled out into the whole school, even the non-CTE kids,” effuses Christina Levinson, Workplace Learning Coordinator and Digital Media Arts Instructor.

For CTE supporters like Levinson, it’s an exciting cultural shift. Previously, though the District offered many CTE options, students and families weren’t always aware of the opportunities available. So, two years ago, Strong Workforce helped the District get the word out with partnering middle schools through more live counseling options and “CTE Road Shows.” The events showcased the eight industry sector pathways across Agriculture & Natural Resources, Arts, Media, & Entertainment, Health Science & Medical Technology and more.

Boasting 50+ course offerings, with more than 60 percent approved for UC “A-G” college entrance credit, it wasn’t long before students started signing up for CTE courses in droves. And with an array of dual enrollment courses to choose from, with more under development, career pathways have never been more navigable.

“It’s all about figuring out what you want to do first,” says Kelsey Langel, Senior Class Advisor and Work-Based Learning Coordinator. Students are reporting that they’ve found their ideal careers through the real-world experiences. On the other hand, some are discovering that an original dream job was not a fit at all — saving years of college tuition and false starts. As Langel says, it’s a win-win, which is why “having the ability to provide students with these opportunities is amazing.”

Work-based learning will be expanding with Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, one of the area’s largest employers. The sports medicine program will begin an orthopedic clinic internship next year, offering students unique, practical experiences.

“They’ll be able to see surgeries, help work on patients in the clinic and be able to do everything from complicated sports injuries to physical therapy,” says Langel.

Industry partner Shauna Sparks, Director of Perioperative Services at the hospital, is looking forward to exposing students to different departments, potentially sparking new health care careers.

“The ultimate goal is to get people into medicine and stay in the area,” explains the director. She believes internships are the perfect remedy for the “brain drain” that is all too common in remote regions.

“It’s a rural area, so it’s hard to get new people,” explains Sparks, who is excited to help build the local talent pipeline. “There’s definitely a nursing shortage on the floor, and we are using travelers quite a bit.”

She hopes the experience will help the hospital “snag” students. If a learner sparked an interest in radiology, for example, the department could hire the student upon graduation, holding them in secretarial positions as they pursue their studies to become much-needed technicians. Says Sparks: “Having that background knowledge from high school will help so much, and it will give them more confidence.”

The internship will coincide with a new medical career class next year, to be dual-enrolled with Sierra College. The hope is to build a more robust health care CTE pathway with the potential to grow medical terminology and LVN programs. For the rural area, says Levinson, new opportunities like this will open doors.

“There’s a huge population of kids that do not have these resources,” explains the instructor. “It’s been a real pleasure to serve the students who need the help to find work-based opportunities.”

As a Digital Media Arts pathways teacher, Levinson says there are a host of internships available for students in her field, including with the local paper and at various tech companies. A popular spot for interns is Nevada County Media (NCM), a public video production hub where students work on live production and editing.

One of her former students, Andrew Rolland, is now Head of Production at NCM, and Levinson couldn’t be prouder.

“He wasn’t a traditional academic and actually struggled to connect with his core classes, but in CTE, he’s a superstar,” beams the instructor, who expects her student will “change the world with film.”

Part of Rolland’s job is training the dozens of student interns at NCM, many of whom come from his alma mater, Bear River High School. According to Levinson, “He’s helping a whole new generation of video production kids.”

Hired by NCM straight out of high school in 2017, Rolland credits his Bear River classes for preparing him for his current position. Still, when it comes to the new interns at the hub, he says he might be a little bit jealous that he hadn’t had the same work-based learning opportunities.

“I would have killed to have this kind of resource when I was going to Bear River,” shares Rolland. Beyond hands-on experience, interns can also access all of the equipment and recording studios for their own projects. Plus, he says networking with knowledgeable members and mentors is a big boost “if you want to be serious” in the industry.

Whether students are interested in the creative or technical side of media, the Center strives to provide a pathway. From broadcast TV to its digital publication and nine YouTube channels, students are exposed to a range of skills and production workflows.

“It’s kind of like a combination of film, broadcast and television school,” explains Ramona Howard, NCM Executive Director. “Then we throw in this crazy makerspace environment.”

Students network with industry members both local and remote while learning skills that will serve them in film school or the workforce. Meanwhile, the Center itself aims to hire from within the internship pool, creating direct opportunities for students like Rolland to launch careers.

“We are a very fortunate community because video was born right here in Grass Valley,” explains Howard, referring to companies like the famous 22-Emmy-award-winning “Grass Valley Group” and AJA Video Systems – local pioneers who helped turn the global film industry digital.

It’s a history as rich as the region’s gold-mining past, and it provides a pathway for many high school students to strike it creative.

“I am really passionate about it,” says Nevada Union student Ava Rose, currently interning at NCM. “Editing is one of my favorite things.”

Rose’s background is in the high school Technical Theater pathway, where she fell in love with recording live performances. Combined with a video production class where she learned the ropes of editing, filmmaking, and scriptwriting, she’s now putting those skills to work in video production. Her recent claim to fame? She interviewed a local finalist from Skin Wars, a reality TV competition about body painting, and the piece will soon air on NCM’s YouTube channel.

“I’ve been editing since about sixth grade, but I’ve probably learned more interning here than I had throughout those years I was editing on my own,” says Rose. “The fact that something like this exists in our town is awesome.”

Rose is thankful for her classes at Nevada Union, where she learned camera and audio basics, making her internship that much easier. She plans to go to college for media and dreams of working in film or sound engineering.

For the sophomore, the work-based learning experience has afforded the confidence necessary to pursue her educational and career goals.

“This internship is showing me so much,” gushes Rose. “Now that I’m working here and helping out with the productions, it’s definitely a yes — I want to go into this field.”