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‘You can do whatever you set your mind to:’ Three Denver students talk about their summer internships

A Denver student works at her summer internship.
A Denver student works at her summer internship.
Denver Public Schools

Nearly 300 Denver students got real-life work experience this summer as interns at more than 100 local companies.

We asked three of them to tell us about it, including the most eye-opening thing they learned. Victoria Hernandez, a 20-year-old student at Florence Crittenton High School, which serves pregnant and parenting teens, had a moving answer.

“While doing the internship, I had ups and downs – from not having a car to having my daughter sick to not having childcare – but after all this, I still kept going,” Hernandez said. “This made me realize I am capable of more things than I thought I was.”

Denver Public Schools has been running the internship program, called CareerLaunch, for three years. Interested students go through a rigorous application and interview process, and those who are selected spend 20 hours a week for six weeks working at a local business. Students are paid if they successfully complete the internship, district officials said.

Below, read Q&As with each of the students. They have been lightly edited for clarity.

Victoria Hernandez
Student at Florence Crittenton High School
Intern at Denver Indian Health and Family Services, Inc.

Tell us a bit about your internship. In a typical day, what tasks are you working on?

At the clinic, my day usually starts of by going straight to one of my supervisors and asking her what she has for me to do that day. Ever since I started the internship, I have been scanning paper medical charts into a flash drive and then uploading the documents into each individual patient chart. My days alternate by one day uploading the charts into the computer, then the next day going through the charts I had scanned the day before and make sure I didn’t miss any documents. After I double-check that all the documents that were in the paper chart are in the electronic medical chart, I shred the patients’ documents.

I sit in the front desk with the receptionists. This is also where the patients walk in and out of the clinic. Sitting at the front I get to see who comes in and out of the clinic. It is really nice to be able to see such nice smiling faces and greet them the short time I’m at the clinic.

I sometimes pick up phone calls when the ladies up front are busy and place them on hold if I can’t help the patients. Sometimes I run errands for the receptionists like send papers back and forth from the providers that work in the back, as well as getting copies from the copier.

What is the most eye-opening or useful thing you’ve learned?

One of the most eye-opening things I learned while being here at DIHFS is that you can do whatever you set your mind to, even if it’s harder than you expect.

While doing the internship, I had ups and downs – from not having a car to having my daughter sick to not having childcare – but after all this, I still kept going. I could have decided to stop but I did not. I told myself that I had to finish this internship… This made me realize I am capable of more things than I thought I was. It also gave me a taste of what it would be like working while having my day revolve around my daughter and her schedule, as well.

How does this internship relate to what you’re learning in school or your future career?

This internship relates to my future career by showing me that in order to get things done, sometimes you need to help people out, even if it’s not in your job description.

“Today for you, tomorrow for me” is a saying I always remember when I see people from different areas working together to get things done. There is such a family atmosphere in this clinic that it lifts your spirits up! I believe this is setting a good example for me of what it is working as a team, and I think that is a great quality to have.

This internship also relates to my future career in the way that it shows me what it is to work in a clinic, since I want to work in the medical field one day.

Kendall Reed
Student at George Washington High School
Intern at University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus

Tell us a bit about your internship. In a typical day, what tasks are you working on?

The program within CU Anschutz I worked with is known as Data Science to Patient Value (also known as D2V). Their work specializes in the application of data collection and management in relation to health care with the use of technology.

Despite my initial fear and anxiety of the pressure of entering my first job, I found the environment at my workplace to be quite welcoming and understanding. Early on, an easy way to communicate with my boss and coworkers was established. This allowed me to anticipate any upcoming deadlines, meetings, or other events so that I could be properly prepared with whatever I needed to do.

My daily workload would normally consist of making progress on CITI Program training (allowing me to become qualified enough to access patient data) and learning how to program with the computer language R. Both of these tasks were done electronically, allowing me to easily be able to share any progress I had made on my work with the necessary people.

Outside of that, I also performed smaller tasks for a number of my coworkers. They tended to go along the lines of typing up written reports, helping out with setting up meetings, even once traveling across campus to make a necessary delivery. The people who gave me these tasks were always very understanding of my schedule, and made sure that none of these tasks would be overwhelming.

What is the most eye-opening or useful thing you’ve learned?

For me, the most important thing I’ve obtained from working at CU was understanding the importance of data management. In the field of medical research, the use of technology has proven to be incredibly useful in creating more efficient methods of finding reasons for why diseases, syndromes, and ailments are occurring.

As someone with little prior experience in working with data and technology (or working in general), I expected learning an entirely new computer language in the span of only six weeks to be impossible. However, I found learning R to not only be completely doable, but also fun and even satisfying. Even after learning only the basic functions of R, I have been able to explore and analyze amounts of patient data that would otherwise be impossible to do by hand. Given the growing amount of technological dependence society has, it is safe to say that what I’ve learned at the CU Anschutz will certainly be applicable to future careers.

As I mentioned earlier, in order for me to have access to real patient data, I needed to complete online training. The Collaborative IRB Training Initiative (CITI) program is a series of online courses and quizzes based around the legal proceedings and guidelines of data usage and experimentation. Despite the lengthy amount of time it took to complete, being certified in CITI offers a range of lasting benefits. The certification lasts for three years, meaning if I were to return to CU or work at another job that required analyzing patient data within that timeframe, I would not have to complete that training again.

How does this internship relate to what you’re learning in school or your future career?

Being a person who has to work hard to stay focused at school, the same problem followed me to my new job. However, working in a new environment that was less competitive than a classroom (surprisingly) allowed me to not only apply efficiency skills I had learned in school to my job, but also to learn new methods in tackling both my workload and my tendency to be distracted.

In a classroom setting, it’s easy to feel too embarrassed to ask a teacher or fellow student for help. As an entry-level intern, asking coworkers for help was a necessity. Unlike a classroom, I found that the people around me were (obviously) adults and experienced in the field of work I was entering. By clarifying what needed to be done, not only was I able to get my problem solved, but it ensured that the work I was doing was completed efficiently.

Even with my internship coming to a close, the importance of not being afraid to ask questions is something I can take with me into my upcoming junior year and even beyond that. … Even in a classroom, where work tends to be more independent, it’s important to notice how working together to find a solution can sometimes be what is best. That may sound sappy to some, and last month when I began my internship, I would have agreed. However, looking back helps me to understand how helpful speaking up for myself and collaborating is.

Becca Erdenebulgan
Student at Thomas Jefferson High School
Intern at Weifield Group Electrical Contracting

Tell us a bit about your internship. In a typical day, what tasks are you working on?

Weifield is an electrical contracting company that is growing rapidly. I am interning under the training department, supporting many training activities. In a typical day, I transcribe tests for the aspiring electricians, enter them into the testing software, and work on my big project.

My big project is researching on how training affects a company’s ability to retain its employees. I researched how large, successful companies have improved their retention through developing a great training program. Then I examined my company’s retention rate and training program and saw what needs improvement and found solutions. I presented all this to my supervisor, the company’s CEO, training and HR department in a PowerPoint presentation.

What is the most eye-opening or useful thing you’ve learned?

The most eye-opening thing I learned here was seeing how much cooperation, work, and organization it takes to run a project – let alone a business. I learned that employees are the most valuable asset of the company.

How does this internship relate to what you’re learning in school or your future career?

While I am undecided about my career, I know I want to venture into the business world and be a leader. Thus, through this internship, I am getting a taste of the corporate world and what kind of work they do. I think this will really help me with my algebraic principles of marketing class next year.

Most importantly, it will give me an advantage when I compete in DECA championships next year. DECA is an international organization of high school and collegiate business programs that enable students to compete against each other. So getting real industry experience is a great competitive advantage.

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