SANDPOINT — Employers often search out the most qualified applicants, so for high school students to gain experience through internships, it can be a foot in the door that leads to the future.
This is particularly true for some of Alex Gray's students in the career-technical education program at Sandpoint High School.
"It builds confidence, especially for anybody in high school, to be immersed in a technology-rich, fast-paced environment," Gray said of the internship opportunities. "When I ask employers what they would rather have, they want students with experience. It's the certifications that get them in the door, and it's their experience that gets them the job later on."
Some of Gray's students who experienced successful internships recently are Tori Hewitt, Ron Korn and Liam Loper. Hewitt, a junior at SHS, started an internship as a support engineer at Kochava in June and is now a part-time employee for the school year. Korn spent the summer as an intern in the technology department for the Lake Pend Oreille School District, and Loper, who started as an unpaid intern at the East Bonner County Library District, stayed on in a paid internship position. Korn and Loper are seniors at SHS.
At Kochava, Hewitt served as technical support for the approximately 100 on-site employees, as well as working with employees from different countries around the world, such as China, London and Singapore, Hewitt said. She also assists with any hardware issues and works with the company servers, getting them ready to "deploy for actual use." One big project throughout the summer included migrating more than 100 users to a new domain.
"It was quite the task, but she was up to it," said Gordon Brown, support engineer and Hewitt's supervisor. "The thing I really like about Tori is she is a go-getter. She doesn't let anything hold her back and that is great. I think she will go really far."
Hewitt has been looking at heading to Boise State University after graduation and plans to major in information technology management. Kochava has asked her to intern again in the summer and she hopes to work there part-time again for her senior year.
"And then I hope to come back after college and work for them," Hewitt said. "Maybe not in the same department or the same job, but still be with (Kochava)."
Hewitt also finds time to be on the school's varsity soccer team, the National Honor Society and Business Professionals of America. She, along with Korn and Loper, are active in CyberPatriot, a National Youth Cyber Education Program centered around the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. Cybersecurity concepts are taught in Gray's information systems classes.
In Gray's classes, students can also earn computer certifications, including A+ certification, Network+ certification and various Microsoft Technical Associate certifications. Korn said his experience in the internship with LPOSD was made possible through the IT classes and certifications available at SHS.
During his internship with LPOSD, Korn said he did asset tagging on 7,800 desktops, monitors, projectors and other technology throughout the district's buildings. The purpose of asset tagging, Korn said, is to keep track of the district's assets, so information such as a description of the item and its serial number is documented. When the tags are later scanned for any reason, the information will come up.
The asset tagging took up much of the summer, but he also worked on several other projects including desktop repair, Chromebook repair, cleaning and updating all the machines in the district and phasing out some of the old hardware to replace it with new hardware.
"I got a lot of experience," Korn said. "Getting this real-world experience helps in the long run so you actually know how to do things in the real world. The textbook can try to teach you, but there is definitely some fixes on machines that you will never find in a textbook ... the more unconventional, unorthodox fixes that do work. Learning those is helpful because you recognize the issue and are able to solve it faster."
Matt Brass said one of the first things he worked to set up was the internship program when he was hired on as director of technology for the district last year. In the summer of 2016, there were four interns, and this year there were seven, he said. The interns work from early June to late August, and then typically work as a technical assistant for Gray to receive school credit. So they still work on broken computer and such at the middle school and high school throughout the school year.
"Ron is a really hard worker and he picks things up really fast," Brass said. "He fit right in with our idea of what we want to see in the internship program, and that is to be able to take a task and be fairly self-sufficient with a little bit of oversight ... he did a great job of that."
Korn said he has always enjoyed working on things like cars and also found a niche in the North Idaho High School Aerospace program with the ACES Aviation Workshop. He plans to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona to study aerospace engineering.
The supervisors of Korn and Hewitt were not the only two with raving reviews of their interns. Gina Emory, IT manager at the library, couldn't say enough about Loper.
"Liam is awesome," Emory said. "Everybody around here absolutely loves him ... I am trying to convince him to stay forever."
One of the most remarkable things, she said, is when he went through the interview process. He was 16 at the time, she said, and he was very composed, had great answers to the questions and honest and forthcoming.
"He really just had a level of maturity that was unexpected," Emory said.
It is through Gray's classes, CyberPatriot and other experiences in which Emory said she believes gave him the confidence he showed during the interview and in his work.
As the library's IT assistant, Loper said most of his responsibilities involve updating, performing maintenance on and managing all of the public computers. While he does some work on staff computers, his talent is mostly needed on the public computers because they require the most maintenance. He also put in a new system for the library catalogs using Chromeboxes.
Loper prefers the hardware side of things over software, because hardware is single purpose and therefore a bit easier to diagnose. Software, on the other hand, "just acts up for no reason," he said.
Though he is not sure exactly where he will attend college, he plans to major in computer engineering. He has been interested in technology as a career since seventh grade and has taken every class he could since, including all of Gray's classes. Even his free time revolves around computers and gaming, which he said is a "great" outlet of communication with his friend who graduated early and attends North Idaho College. Loper built a computer for himself over the summer and in their free time, he and his friend will spend a couple hours talking and playing games.
Through his internship at the library, Loper said he is focused on building his resume.
"I am just hoping to gain experience because, a lot of time, (employers) don't really care that you have certifications ... they want to make sure you have the experience, that you can learn things," Loper said.
It is these experiences Gray said he tries to provide the students with, and those who take advantage of them "shine a little brighter" when it comes to future career endeavors.
"It's a shortcut and, I think, a path to confidence and probably greater postsecondary success," Gray said.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.