Internships looked different at Building 21 Philadelphia this Spring.

A group of juniors, their teacher, and the Philadelphia team pioneered a virtual approach. For 10 weeks, 14 students logged into Zoom and connected with their mentors to explore career fields that interested them. Together, they worked on passion projects and learned more about potential career paths.

The career paths included:

  • Animation and character design

  • Business operations

  • Choreography

  • Computer engineering, software design, and coding

  • Cosmetology and entrepreneurship

  • Game design

  • Nutrition

  • Psychology

  • Real estate

  • Technology support

The pitch for mentors.

Ms. Nabeehah Parker, Philadelphia science teacher and Internship Coordinator, recalls pitching the virtual approach to the mentors, who school staff recruited through personal connections: “their buy-in and support was immediate.” While they didn’t know exactly what the program was going to look like, many were quick to commit—they took a leap of faith. This inaugural group supported the students and designed projects that kept the students engaged and motivated throughout the experience. 

Growing Habits of Success and NextGen Essentials.

Students and mentors also focused on developing their Building 21 Habits of Success and NextGen Essentials Competencies. Together, they refined their understanding of professional norms and communication. They practiced skills like preparing a presentation and communicating professionally over Zoom and email throughout their experience.

  • HOS.1 Personal Work Habits: I can demonstrate effective personal work habits to help me achieve my academic and personal goals.

  • HOS.2 Planning My Journey: I can monitor my progress, set and track my goals, and create a post-secondary plan to ensure that I am college and career ready.

  • HOS.3 Building Networks: I can build relationships with diverse individuals and expand my network of people who can help and support me.

  • HOS.4 Professionalism: I can adhere to professional norms, effectively communicate and adapt to change in a variety of professional settings.

  • 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.).

Celebrating the projects.

This small group celebrated their accomplishments at the Learning Through Internships (LTI) Exposition. They shared their final project products and brainstormed ways to improve the program for September. 

During his presentation, Erick Witcher, Game Design intern, reflected: “Having the internship allowed me to see what my potential could be…it improved my problem-solving skills. I learned when I needed to take a different approach or involve other people and get some help.”

Erick worked with Nate Bronstein, Founder & CEO of SmartTrack, to learn more about a career in game design and create a game of his own. During his final presentation, Erick showed the audience of peers, parents, and mentors the unique world he designed and developed in the programs Blender and Unity with the help of his mentor.

Jawon Hayes pursued his interest in animation with his mentor and professional animator, Sean Tate. In addition to helping complete an animation project, Jawon explored character, logo, and business card design. He learned ways in which he could use his art skills to engage in the business world.

Mr. Tate reflects that Jawon was “so enthusiastic about the project! Jawon took an animation class at Building 21 and that grew into this experience. It was great working with Jawon.”

Ms. Parker reflected on her experiences and moment of pride for her students: “The students were really proud of and excited about their accomplishments. Their growth becomes evident in their mentors’ comments and students’ reflections about their experiences. There was a point for every student to see that growth and social emotional learning.”

Throughout the experience, the students overcame the challenges of connecting virtually. Ms. Parker witnessed her students’ resilience. She saw them understand themselves and what’s possible in the real world.

What’s next?

“This is only the start!” Ms. Parker shared the Building 21 design for next year when the school strives to match each junior with a mentor to complete an LTI project. Students and mentors will meet once a week, either virtually or in person. Besides career exposure, students will develop their professional skills and grow their networks. 

To get younger students thinking about different careers and their junior year LTI opportunity, the school will hold career exposure activities throughout the year for all grades. Mentors and experts in different career fields will share their work and the education pathway for their field.

This is a heavy lift! Building 21 Philadelphia invites anyone interested in becoming involved in the career pathways programs to reach out. They also welcome referrals to other community contacts for potential speakers or mentors. Please contact Ms. Parker at nparker@building21.org for more information.