Transitioning partnership programs from in-person to virtual has been like entering the three-lane highway from the country road.

This is the analogy that Kristyn Senneca, Building 21 Allentown’s Partnership Coordinator, uses when talking about her work over the last year. “We were taking the scenic route, looking out the window as we traveled. We would drive along and see what’s happening in a given career field. Gently exposing students to the industry over a longer period of time.” 

And now, through technology and access, Kristyn is making it possible for her students to travel faster.

Kristyn reflects: “With the pandemic, everything is now happening at the speed of light. There’s more access and availability. Going virtual has amplified the experience for kids. You can hop on zoom and learn about a partner in the blink of an eye.”

This outlook drives Kristyn and her colleagues to creatively integrate career exposure into their students’ online learning. In the past, career exposure often required identifying a mutual date, clearing the schedule, booking a bus, gathering permission slips, and taking a trip to visit a local business, hospital, or studio. Now, Kristyn can ask professionals for an hour of their time on Zoom to talk with interested students about what it’s like to work in their field. 

“Our options have grown tremendously. If we think about career exposure as a virtual experience, it changes the framework.” Kristyn finds that more people are able to make time for an hour of virtual presentation. If you can accept that great experiences don’t always have to be in person, the virtual nature of the interaction removes many logistical and geographic barriers.

While this approach is working “light touch” career exposure experiences for students, Building 21 Allentown prides themselves on the next level of career experiences – internships and fellowships for juniors and seniors. “Developing virtual mentoring relationships is more challenging but we have to build this.” Kristyn is determined to collaborate with partners to make these experiences possible for students – and they have.

This past summer, Building 21 and the Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) successfully moved their summer internship program online.

“This summer experience has always been very personal and relationship based,” Kristyn shared. “Rising seniors are able to go to the hospital and work with a mentor in the field. We asked ourselves, ‘how do we replicate this when students won’t be able to work in the hospital and meet their mentors in person?’”

LVHN and Building 21 collaborated to build a 5-week virtual experience as similar to their in-person model as possible. The group of selected students were charged with designing and developing a product to meet a need identified by LVHN. Mentors connected virtually to provide an initial overview of the requested project. From there, the students researched, designed, and developed a product to fulfil the need. Over the course of the internship, students participated in one-on-one conferences with their project coach, group professional development sessions, and mentorship meetings to guide their project design and build their networks.

  • NGE.1 Project Quality: I can plan, create, and implement a project in the world that has a positive impact on an authentic audience.

  • NGE.2 Presentation: I can give purposeful and effective presentations in formal settings, making strategic and appropriate decisions about content, language use, and style based on the audience, venue, and topic.

  • NGE.3 Collaboration: I can work effectively with diverse teams to create high quality products.

  • NGE.4 Written Communication in the Workplace: I can effectively use a variety of formats for written communication in the workplace (e.g. email, memo, executive summary, business plan, technical report, press release, white paper, guides, handbooks, directions, agendas, meeting minutes, blogs (sharing/reflection), reviews, discussion boards/forum, etc.).

Building 21’s NextGen Essentials Competencies & Continua provided the framework for assessing the final projects and presentations. Students were asked to produce and present a high quality product, while demonstrating excellent collaboration with the LVHN mentors and proficient communication in the workplace.

The LVHN Summer Experience concluded with a virtual product exhibition, where all the student interns presented their work for feedback and celebration with the LVHN team. Even virtually, students demonstrated their deep learning and problem solving within a healthcare topic. They established connections to careers in healthcare and with LVHN mentors throughout the region.

Kristyn notes that this successful virtual collaboration has also opened the door to building programs where more kids could be involved and access this opportunity. Students report a positive experience and impact on their future career planning, as well. Senior Elise Wilson reflects on her experience:

During the summer of 2020, I got the chance to intern with LVHN. My favorite part of the Summer Experience was learning. I’m always up for learning new things, especially when it comes to learning about the medical field. This really helped me determine my future career. I was having multiple doubts if I truly wanted to become a Forensic Psychiatrist but, after the internship was over, I realized that the medical field is for me. Overall, being a virtual intern was fun. I got to work with the most amazing mentors and grow my network. Since it was virtual, I had time to do fun, summer things for myself while also working on my project. To put it all together, the LVHN Summer Experience was one I’ll never forget.​

Virtual partnerships require a mindset shift and LVHN and Building 21 have shown it’s possible.

“We had to paint the picture and help people think about things differently along the way, as this was not traditional.” Looking forward, Kristyn is working with more partners to shift and adapt their programs. This spring, Building 21 Allentown will launch an engineering design studio partnered with Olympus that will provide exposure to careers in both engineering and business. Students will connect with experts from around the country to learn about all aspects of the design process, including product development, public relations, and marketing. 

“Before the pandemic, when we thought about who to partner with, we would think of people and organizations close to Allentown. Now, we see that we have broad options.” And, while remote learning is exceptionally challenging, Kristyn and her colleagues have leveraged unique career exposure opportunities, keeping this important part of the Building 21 model going virtually. 

If you or your organization would be interested in connecting with Building 21 to learn more about our virtual partnership and career exposure opportunities, please reach out to info@b-21.org