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YouthWorks Imparts Lessons About Jobs, Workplace

July 25, 2018    |  

Kiana Carr and Sydnie Taylor are students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County pursuing biology degrees and careers in the medical field. Carr wants to be a pediatrician. Taylor is leaning heavily toward pediatric dentistry, but she’s not 100 percent sure.

What both students are certain about is the impact of the five-week Summer Bioscience Internship Program (SBIP) they are completing this week as part of the YouthWorks Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). This is the University’s 28th year of participation in the work-readiness program with the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, and more than 60 interns were placed in jobs this summer through UMB’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE).

YouthWorks students listen to a physical therapy lecture at the School of Medicine.

YouthWorks students listen to a physical therapy lecture at the School of Medicine.

High school and college students receive paychecks for their YouthWorks efforts, but what pays off in the long run are the experiences gained by assisting clinicians or researchers, participating in school tours or hands-on workshops. Interns receive invaluable lessons about succeeding in the workforce while making connections that can help them with their future study plans and career paths.

“It’s been interesting to actually interact with patients before you begin your research to find out what topic really matters to them the most,” said Carr, who has been working with C. Daniel Mullins, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Health Services Research at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy (UMSOP). Carr was a YouthWorks intern the past two summers at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. “I got to interact with a lot of doctors and residents at Shock Trauma, and that was fun,” she said, “but with pharmacy, it’s interesting to work with different researchers and see their varied focuses. I really get to see how much their research impacts the groups they’re studying.”


Taylor is in her fourth year in the SBIP, and she thanked the program’s leaders — Brian Sturdivant, MSW, director, strategic initiatives and community partnerships in the OCE, and Allison Robinson, MPH, program manager, Maryland AHEC Program, Family and Community Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) — for arranging her internship at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD), which hadn’t hosted a YouthWorks intern before.

“They knew I was interested in dentistry, reached out to the school, and paved the way for me to have a mentor in the field I want to possibly get in to,” said Taylor, who is assisting Vivek Thumbigere-Math, BDS, PhD, assistant professor in UMSOD’s Division of Periodontology in the Department of Advanced Oral Sciences and Therapeutics. “The SBIP is a really good program for anyone who’s interested in the science field. It really helps you make connections, which is the best part, because I’m still in contact with mentors I’ve had in the past, and they’ve been very supportive.”

Primers, Tours, and More

On July 20, a dozen of the SBIP students got a primer on UMSOM’s Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science from Nicole Willhide, MS, director of student services. Along with UMB graduate student and SBIP program coordinator Devona Quasie-Woode, they watched a 20-minute video about the profession and toured an anatomy class on the second floor at Howard Hall, where first-year physical therapy students were dissecting cadavers. Then they headed to UMSOP’s PATIENTS Day at the UM BioPark for more interactive and educational experiences. Earlier in the summer, the group took part in a three-day orientation before heading off to their placements at Shock Trauma, Sponsored Programs Administration in UMB’s Office of Research and Development,  and the schools of medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry.

“The topics and the experience itself are very intriguing,” said John Tinawin, who is studying civil engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park and was placed at UMSOM with Asaf Keller, PhD, professor of anatomy and neurobiology. “I’m helping with three experiments in the lab — on opium addiction, nicotine addiction, and pain. I joined this program to see if I can find anything interesting outside of engineering. I definitely would recommend YouthWorks to anyone who’s looking to expose themselves to different career opportunities.”

There are four sectors to UMB’s participation in YouthWorks: the SBIP; the Community Engagement Center (CEC); HIRE One (administrative/office-type jobs), and the CURE Scholars Summer Program. The latter hosts students from the groundbreaking UMB CURE initiative, the first in the nation to engage middle schoolers in the National Cancer Institute’s Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) Program. (Read more about the CURE summer events.

Engaging with the Community

Six high school students spent their five-week internship working at the CEC and in the community, with four interns maintaining the Pop! Farm in the nearby Poppleton neighborhood. The students watered plants and trees, pulled weeds, and more. They were supervised by Sara Haile, a student at the University of Maryland School of Social Work (UMSSW), and the program is led by Bill Joyner, MSW, UMSSW alum and senior economic inclusion specialist in the OCE.

Gardening was a new activity for Jahleah DeGraffinried, who’ll be entering the ninth grade at Western High School in September. “I’m learning how to garden, what weeds to pull, so that’s a plus. And I get to work with my friends,” said DeGraffinried, who did a YouthWorks job last summer canvassing the community to promote West Baltimore businesses.

Dante Gregg, who’ll enter 11th grade at Augusta Fells High School in September, says working at the farm had a side benefit. “I like working in the garden,” he said. “My grandmother’s got a little garden in her yard, so now I can help her with what I’ve learned this summer.”

The teens also got a glimpse of what it’s like to be in the workforce. Andrew Gordon, a rising senior at REACH Partnership, says he’s learned “that I’ll be fine in the work environment,” and wished he could get more hours at the CEC.

“This kind of feels like the Boys and Girls Club, but it’s work, so it’s a lot more serious than that,” he said. “And interacting with people from the community in here is nice, because it brings us all together. We really make a difference, and I love making a difference in our community.”

Haile said she was lucky to have this group of YouthWorks students.

“We supervise them at the Pop! Farm and take them on trips that involve the farm and community engagement,” she said. “We also set up enrichment sessions so they can learn about financial literacy and things like that. We are basically showing them what it’s like in the real world.”

Help Around the Office

Rather than tending to gardens, the HIRE One interns tend to office tasks around the campus in a program led by Camille Givens-Patterson, community partnership specialist in OCE. There are 19 in the program this summer, including Coty Rock, a rising sophomore at Notre Dame of Maryland University, who Givens-Patterson calls a real “Rock star.”

Rock works as a general assistant in the UMSOM Office of Finance and Resource Management, answering phones, filing confidential information, entering data, and doing office inventory among other tasks. She enjoys being a “helping hand” and finds that even the simplest task can provide teachable moments.

“On the phone, you have to really be professional and know what to say and how to say things to people,” Rock said. “One day a caller needed to get transferred, and they told the other assistant that they really liked the way I answered and how well I spoke. That is a compliment because this is my first time answering phones in the office. I really love working with YouthWorks and UMB. It’s a great experience.”

Over on the 14th floor of the Saratoga Building, Fudi Fickenscher is having a similar experience working for UMB’s Office of the President. The rising senior at Bryn Mawr School has been doing secretarial work as well as writing items for The Elm website to promote OCE’s Local Food Connection initiative.

Fickenscher calls working at UMB this summer “truly a foot in the door” and adds that the teamwork she sees in the office reinforces lessons she’s learned in school group projects.

“There is no assignment at work that has not involved other people,” she said. “Without teamwork and without meeting deadlines, this University and any workplace would not function. YouthWorks also teaches us valuable skills to succeed — college prep, résumé writing and finances. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have exposure to a 9-to-5 office job. Not a lot of teenagers have this opportunity.”