Internship program gives Shelton students hands-on advantage

SHELTON — Some high school seniors are getting a glimpse of what might be their professional future — all thanks to an internship program that connects local students with area businesses.

The Shelton High internship program offers seniors a chance to get a hands-on view of the professional world. Over the past few years, students have shadowed professionals in the world of teaching, construction, and medical industries.

“It has always been my dream to go into nursing, and this program helped me realize it was the right decision,” said senior Megan Bucherati, who will be focusing on nursing at Fairfield University beginning this fall.

Bucherati is among a group of seniors in Christine McNamara’s Fundamentals of Health Science course, in which students participated in rotations at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in the fall, and Lord Chamberlain Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in the spring.

McNamara said this program began in 2017 to afford students the opportunity to experience careers in healthcare, firsthand, outside of the classroom. About 80 students have participated in the program over the past five years.

“Students take the class because they are excited to get real world experience and hands-on training,” McNamara said. “It gives them the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom. Some students who have taken the class decided that healthcare was not for them.

“This information is invaluable before enrolling in a post-secondary program that doesn’t appeal to them,” McNamara added. “In this case, the lessons they learned in professionalism and teamwork will benefit them no matter which career they choose to pursue.”

In McNamara’s class, students learn the basics required for all healthcare employees, including professionalism, medical ethics, medical terminology, measurement of vital signs, cultural awareness, infection control, and standard precautions.

Students demonstrate their learning in patient care simulations in the classroom and practice their skills in the field, when caring for patients or shadowing at various healthcare facilities. McNamara’s classroom consists of six hospital beds, mannequins, vital sign monitors, bedding, wheelchairs, and other various medical equipment used to train students on proper technique for various skills.

At St. Vincent’s Medical Center this past fall, students were placed in the Connecticut Orthopedic Institute, Short Stay Unit, Congestive Heart Failure Clinic, and the Family Birthing Unit. Students attend placement every other day for two hours at the healthcare facility.

“It was great to be able to help people,” Bucherati said of her experience on-the-job this past fall. “I shadowed a C-section. It was exciting.”

Senior Porshae Rose, who will be attending Southern Connecticut State University next year, said she loves nursing, and she longed for hands-on training sooner rather than later.

“Just doing it here (in the classroom) was not enough,” Rose said. “Through this program, I got to see what happens in hospitals and nursing homes. It helps so much more than when you are trying to decide what you want to do with your life. I want to be in nursing.”

Alisha Araujo, also interested in a career in nursing, said she enjoyed getting to know the patients and what goes into the daily routine of taking care of people.

“We got to experience so many things you’d never see while in high school. It was always a different experience,” Araujo said about her rotation at St. Vincent’s last fall.

For fellow senior Grace McPadden — already an EMT with Echo Hose Ambulance Corps — this program helped her realize nursing was not for her. Instead she plans to pursue pre-med in college.

“It was amazing to get this hands-on experience,” McPadden said.

McNamara’s health sciences class is only part of the school’s internship program, a popular choice among students until the onset of the pandemic, when most opportunities to leave campus were eliminated due to COVID restrictions.

With many of those restrictions now lifted, Shelton CTE Curriculum Leader and Perkins Grant Coordinator Pamela Garrett sees the internships filling up once again.

“The internship program has gone through changes in recent years and continues to build in our post-COVID world,” Garrett said. “We hope to increase our partnership offerings to support more significant levels of exposure to the professional community for our students.

“Many of our internship students have become full-time personnel for the organizations they interned with and are considered ‘highly qualified’ desirable candidates,” Garrett added.

This year, several students are in health sciences, but others are interning at Turner Construction or shadowing teachers at the high school. Garrett said she is looking for other businesses to participate in the program.

Students participating in the program must perform the duties of an intern with the organization. Students shadow and support business operations, learn on-the-job career preparedness principles and the practices of their host business.

Students can participate for a semester or an entire year and receive half-year credit (75 hours) or full-year credit (150 hours). Internships are both on and off-campus. Many of student interns work as “teaching interns” with district teachers on the educational career pathways, she said.

Chad McCullough, Turner Construction Business Unit Manager, said his Shelton-based firm initially connected with Shelton High through their Business Advisory Council. The goal, he said, was to help prepare students for the workplace.

“As we learned more, we jumped at the opportunity to host an intern,” McCullough said. “It’s really a win-win proposition — we get the opportunity to expose students to our business and develop a pipeline of talent and students get course credit and job training.”

McCullough said Turner Construction exposes the interns to all aspects of the business, not just the construction process on job sites.

“They learn about all of the important safety, accounting, estimating, design, marketing, and procurement roles in our business,” he said. “We are committed at Turner to building a pathway to employment for local residents, across all facets of our company - including trade work.

“Our goal is to bring on at least two interns every school year — one planning to study a construction management related field in college, and one looking to pursue a career in the trades,” he added. “Our first intern is now working as a full-time employee while also pursuing her degree in construction management.”

Past internships included Sikorsky Credit Union, which had to put the program on hold due to COVID. The summer internship programs are with Sikorsky Manufacturing and The Workplace, which are not connected with earning high school credits but are available to students.

In her class, McNamara said once students are trained in a particular skill, they can practice that skill in the field. Some skills that students perform are taking vital signs, changing beds, and assisting with feeding.

Students are also able to observe charting, wound care, and admission and discharge procedures. Some students were able to view procedures, such as endoscopies, colonoscopies, PICC line and IV insertion and removal.

“Many students who graduate from the program send emails to tell me how they are doing as they pursue careers in healthcare at colleges and universities,” McNamara said. “Many have written to tell me how prepared they were for their post-secondary classes and clinicals after taking this class. One student was even offered an internship for the summer after graduation in the Pulmonology Department at St. Vincent’s Medical Center due to his initiative and professionalism.”