Durham high school students explore the world of work over spring break

April 16, 2018
Durham District Court Judge Amanda Maris discusses her profession with Scholars-At-Work participants.

While most students relaxed or vacationed this spring break, participants in Durham Public Schools’ Scholars-At-Work Program were busy networking with employers and building their professional resumes.

Sixty-two students from high schools across Durham spent four days “in residence” with Durham employers, including AW North Carolina, Cisco, Durham County and Self-Help Credit Union.

The Scholars-At-Work program exposes students to the work and helps direct them on a path to gainful and rewarding careers. It is part of a continuum of work-based learning opportunities under development by Made in Durham to create a strong pipeline of talent for the region.

Many students were surprised to learn about the diversity of roles and functions housed within a single company.

“I got to understand that there are many opportunities at Cisco,” said Bailey Leon, tenth grader at Northern High School. “They don’t [all] have to do with technology either—they could be non-technical.”

Angel Cruz Salvador of Durham School of the Arts said he “came in not knowing the connections, opportunities, and people [I] would meet” and that he was inspired by a Cisco staff member to create a professional email account so he could network with the professionals he encountered during the week.

At Durham County, which hosted the largest group of participants, students experienced dozens of departments and services – from Human Resources, to Engineering, to Emergency Medical Services – and had the chance to interact with local government leaders, such as County Manager Wendell Davis. At the Durham County Courthouse, District Court Judge Amanda Maris led them on a tour and shared little-known details about her profession and the criminal justice system.

“I always enjoy visiting with the youngest members of our community,” said Maris. “The [participants] were curious and engaged with many questions about how the criminal justice system operates and how I make my decisions in court. It was my pleasure to…hopefully instill in them the value of public service and helping others in whichever career they may choose.”

Drew Cummings, chief of staff for Durham County, shares Judge Maris’ dual aim to expose students to public service careers while at the same time preparing them for a variety of potential career pathways.

“Durham’s young people can and should be thinking about the possibilities of public sector work,” said Cummings. “The Scholars-at-Work program offers wonderful exposure to these possibilities, and even if they end up pursuing other opportunities, we feel we will have succeeded in giving several dozen students a deeper understanding of how their local government functions.”

Other host sites over traditional spring break included GSK, National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. IBM and Duke Health participated over alternative spring break in March, hosting an additional 23 students.

Scholars-At-Work is a program of Durham Public Schools Career and Technical Education in partnership with CTE Boosters and local employers, sponsored this year by Google Fiber and AW North Carolina.

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