BHCC Inaugural Learn & Earn Program A Success
Bunker Hill's new internship program was a real win-win with students and employers.
Bunker Hill Community College’s new “Learn and Earn” student-intern program does more than just prepare students for jobs, they often place them in jobs.
An esthetician and self-described unconventional student, Adelina Keshishian is a 26-year-old BHCC business major and student mentor from Malden. Sporting a Ron Paul 2012 t-shirt, her brown eyes lit up when she spoke of her passion for helping and inspiring others. Keshishian graduates next spring and plans to matriculate to a 4-year school and pursue a career combining her interests in law, politics and business. She just completed an internship in the corporate social responsibility department at EMC, the data storage giant in Hopkinton, Mass.
Commuting from her home to Hopkinton could take up to two hours, “But you know what?” said Keshishian, “It was worth it. It really brought what I learned in the classroom to life.”
At EMC, Keshishian would receive requests for charitable donations, evaluate them, and shepherd those requests through every step of the vetting process, and ultimately mailed the checks to the recipients. She and the other interns would also be sent to short, informal seminars in different departments to give them a feel for how different pieces of the company fit together.
“They really integrate you into their process,” she said.
Keshishian says her experience made her more confident and made her push herself to be more extroverted. She began to build her professional network and worked on her interpersonal business skills.
“They helped us critique our résumés,” said Keshishian, “and gave us a really cool perspective on what companies are looking for.”
In his 2012 State of the State address, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced his plan to unify the 15 community colleges in the Commonwealth under a single umbrella. One of his goals is to have the colleges all give students an education that will lead them more directly to employment, and he cited Bunker Hill Community College’s success in that area, as an example of what he’d like to achieve.
Patrick’s plan, which was drastically scaled back in the budget passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives and sent to the Senate two weeks ago, is aimed at filling over 100,000 job openings in Massachusetts, many of which don’t require a degree from a 4-year institution, but do require training beyond a high school diploma.
Designed to help BHCC meet its strategic goal of identifying and closing gaps in the workforce, the Learn and Earn Program is more than a typical internship program chiefly because it is paid and students are paired with mentors. Learn and Earn began in Spring 2012, begun when CEO’s from EMC, State Street, BJ’s, Suffolk Construction, and Raytheon approached BHCC President Dr. Mary Fifield wanting for the first time to come to the community colleges in a systematic way and asked for a well-trained, diversified workforce.
After additional meetings and a $200,000 grant from the Commonwealth, the Learn and Earn co-op Program was underway.
Students are matched with mentors at each of the five inaugural companies and are paid $14 an hour or more. Since many BHCC students work other jobs in addition to their classes, they are asked to commit just one 8-hour day per week to the internship at first, and they can increase that commitment.” said Fifield. “These are not menial jobs, like simply filing or getting coffee for executives. The tasks are very directly related to the students’ course of study.”
Because so many BHCC students have other jobs and all attend classes, internship hours are flexible, starting with one day per week and increasing at students’ pace with an eye toward getting hired full time. According to Fifield, State Street has already hired one student to a permanent, full-time position.
US Army war veteran, Greg Walsh came to Bunker Hill from the Army where he was stationed at Fort Bragg, NC for a little over four years, two of which he spent in Iraq during the war. “Coming to Bunker Hill was a no-brainer.” Walsh spent each of the past 14 Tuesdays working for State Street.
Walsh was given the choice between several departments, but chose Human Resources, because of his experience in the Army and keen interest in business. “It was a smooth transition for me,” he said.
On a typical day, Walsh would arrive at 9:00 a.m., check email, and attend meetings and info sessions designed to familiarize students with the company. He worked on special projects like auditing the firm’s interview process and contacting applicants and setting up interviews for them. “I learned to use technology to help bridge the gaps in people’s availability.”
“The networking is incredible,” Walsh said. “You get to see how the real world is.” At the end of his internship, Walsh was invited to stay on.
“These students aren’t just fetching coffee and filing paperwork,” says Fifield, “they’re doing things like helping to identify global markets for new products.”
Sherimon Harris, a 22-year-old engineering student who emigrated to Boston from the West Indies just seven years ago, is graduating from the Engineering Transfer program this semester and is currently considering which of the three BS in mechanical engineering programs she was accepted into.
As an intern at Suffolk Construction, she worked with databases, learned to read drawings, and helped bring them to life on construction sites. She even shadowed one of their top mechanical engineers, “which was one of my highlights,” said Harris.
In addition to her professional skills, Suffolk gave Harris training on interpersonal business skills. Harris summarized her experience in an email, writing “The most important thing is being able to work with people, being able to acknowledge even the smallest thing a person does. Because at the end of the day it's people who are going to make or break you.”
BHCC President Mary Fifield recently announced U.S. Department of Labor grants to highlight community colleges and their ability to train students for high demand jobs. One of the grants included $20 million spread among 15 community colleges. BHCC will use its share to develop an LPN nursing program to act as a bridge between its nurse’s aid program and its RN program. Fifield also hopes to develop a pharmacy technician program and a sustainable environmental development program.
Another $20 million U.S. Department of Labor grant spread among five community colleges will be used to develop an IT and computer technology program.
Each student from this inaugural class of interns took something a little different away from their internship experience, but when asked if they would recommend it to their peers, they all responded the same way. “Absolutely!”