Unlocking the value of high school internships

Christopher Schwarting ’24 and other young writers collaborate on a writing exercise at the Iowa Young Writers Studio, June 23, 2023 – Iris Cai

Imagine spending the summer on the red planet of Mars… in virtual reality. This summer, some students indulged in a vast array of internships, ranging from hands-on stem cell research to virtual 3-D recreations of NASA images.

Internships serve as bridges between the classroom and the real world. They allow students to put theory into practice, helping them navigate the complexities of the working world. Through internships, students get a firsthand look at their dream careers, providing insights that textbooks alone cannot offer.

High school students have not always focused so heavily on summer internships—this is a much more recent trend. Internships almost always come with the connotation of college or professional work, but recently, high schools have entered this field as well. 

One major reason may very well be the rise of AI and technology. As the world develops, jobs will change. Gaining valuable experience as a high schooler is one step towards ensuring a job with low replaceability. According to a CBS News report, A.I. cut around 5% of the U.S. job losses in May 2023. This, coupled with the ability to contact employers or professors more easily through social media, allows more high schoolers to intern at a company. 

In addition, employers see this as an opportunity to grow as well, as employers can be exposed to raw talent and young drive. According to SHRM.org, 70% of companies say that high school interns who complete their programs are either “very likely” or “completely likely” to eventually land a college internship with their company. 

Bridging the gap between theory and practice, Sixth Formers Nolan McCloskey and Ryan Brewington have been hard at work this summer. 

McCloskey, a long-time computer science fanatic and skilled coder, worked at Villanova University under Professor Frank Klassner. 

“I used pictures from NASA’s archives to create sets of pictures that were taken by the same site on the surface that were either taken by a Mars rover or a Mars lander,” McCloskey said. “Then I created a program to stitch together those images that were from the same real-world location to create a VRC that depicts what it is actually like to be on Mars’ surface.” 

Not only does this program allow viewers to see images that depict Mars, they can interact with the program.

“To actually display this, I’m using a software called VISR,” McCloskey said. “Essentially, it’s compiled as a tour of Mars so that you can navigate around to all these different sites where the rovers and landers have been so you can get a sense of what Mars’ terrain is like.” 

McCloskey chose an internship in computer science to fuel an existing passion.

“Around two years ago, I wanted to get into programming and found CS50, which is an introductory computer science class for college students that’s available online,” McCloskey said. “I worked through that in a couple of months, and that gave me a baseline of computer science fundamentals, and I was like ‘wow.’ This is actually really fun, like problem-solving, […] it’s a lot like math, actually.” 

Landing internships, however, is no easy endeavor, and both McCloskey and Brewington can attest to the struggle and persistence that went into their summer experience. 

For Brewington, using school connections like biology teacher Mrs. Kara Cleffi was helpful. 

“It’s a lot of cold emailing, a lot of not getting responses, a lot of getting shut down,” Brewington said. “Some advice I would give is really don’t stop, and don’t be sad if someone says, ‘I can’t take you’ because everyone is packed and busy, and you’re not just competing with other high school students. You’re also competing with undergraduates and graduates and post-docs to find these spots in these labs.”

Brewington and fellow Sixth Former Ethan Lee worked at the University of Pennsylvania labs. 

“I was in the biomaterials department of [the University of Pennsylvania], and I was working under Dr. Christopher Madl on stem cells,” Brewington said. “Stem cells have the ability to reproduce like normal cells, but they can also differentiate, which is unlike normal cells. When they differentiate, these stem cells can basically transform into almost anything, and we were looking at how stem cells can differentiate for therapeutic reasons.” 

While both McCloskey and Brewington were able to gain experience in wildly interesting fields, they gained other experience as well. 

“It’s a big commitment,” Brewington said. “I did a seven-week program over the summer, and I had to travel to Philadelphia every day. I took the train there and back. I’m basically there from 10-3 p.m. Some days even longer.” 

Despite the hours and hard work, McCloskey and Brewington chose internships in fields they enjoyed. They have come away with experience and advice for the next batch of students. 

“At first it seems super daunting to do any of this stuff, but you can really break it down into smaller problems that you know how to solve.”

Nolan McCloskey ’24

“This applies to everything, but especially in CS, the more time you spend on something, the easier it gets,” McCloskey said. “At first it seems super daunting to do any of this stuff, but you can really break it down into smaller problems that you know how to solve.” 

Brewington gained science skills, as well as working in a lab and co-existing with other passionate members of the same field. 

“You just have to be open to trying to understand things even if you don’t at first.”

Ryan Brewington ’24

“I learned countless skills. I was working with graduates and post-docs, so everything they said was something new to me. You just have to be open to trying to understand things even if you don’t at first,” Brewington said. “I learned a lot about science, but also about operating in a lab with graduates and people who are just as passionate as me about this stuff.”