SA Works, a public/private workforce development coalition, graduated its second group of summer interns Monday night. The nonprofit, which recently integrated with the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, seeks to place 20,000 individuals into applied learning internships with local employers by 2020. The organization also works to stock the local science, technology, engineering and math-driven (STEM) workforce pipeline.
This summer, more than 140 high school and college students from the San Antonio area completed paid internships with 21 public, private and nonprofit employers that partner with SA Works. A graduation ceremony was held Monday at the Region 20 conference center to recognize the participating interns and employers. Both the students and employers learned a lot from each other throughout the experience, more than one guest speaker said.
“My experience as an H-E-B employee has been truly one of the best summers I’ve ever had,” said Julia Singer, an International School of the Americas student who interned with H-E-B’s information solutions department. She gained much knowledge from working on a project that eventually would impact colleagues and customers, she said. “(The internship showed) me there are avenues out there for high schoolers (to) get the chance to experience what it’s like to work in a field they hope to be in one day.”
Samantha Ruvalcaba, a Business Careers High School student who interned with Bexar County, quoted a song from The Smiths: “Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to.”
In her work, Ruvalcaba answered phone calls from the public and transferred them to the appropriate staff member. Initially, she was eager yet at times nervous on the job, she said, but her colleagues guided her through the process of learning.
“Slowly but surely I was able to answer phone calls on my own and with confidence,” Ruvalcaba said, adding that she now lacks hesitancy to do things that she was once reluctant to try.
SA Works Board Chairman Peter J. Holt, vice president and general manager at HoltCat, said he’s confident that, through their internships, the students learned various skills that will help them determine their career path. HoltCat had several student interns this summer.
“You learned something incredibly valuable,” Holt said to the interns. “So I hope you can take that experience when you get into college next year, or in high school when you’re taking those classes, and you suddenly realize what you like and what it is that ignites your passion.”
Romanita Matta-Barrera, SA Works’ new executive director, told representatives of the partner employers that offering opportunities for student internship is like a community investment. The now-former interns are giving feedback on their experiences this summer, she said, and are describing them as positive and useful.
“You really had an impact in their lives in so many different ways in a mentorship capacity,” Matta-Barrera said. She also complimented the students’ families for being supportive during the internships, which began in early June.
“Thank you for encouraging them. Thank you for supporting them,” Matta-Barrera said. “It’s a journey of learning and it’s a journey of growth, not only for them but for the supervisors and employers.”
Richard Perez, president and CEO of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said partnerships fostered by SA Works play a major part in the city’s economic development.
“Business is what drives your economy. Business is what make things happen, and provides you all with opportunities to learn, grow, make a little money,” Perez said before introducing Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.
Bexar County, along with CPS Energy, had the most SA Works summer interns – more than 15 each. The County paid its interns $13 per hour.
Perez said Wolff could appreciate the value of a collaborative, city-wide internship program such as SA Works’, as the County judge has run family businesses in past years.
Wolff said it was only appropriate that upon the launch of SA Works, the private sector took the lead “in making sure we’re educating students who want a job and (giving) them the opportunity to learn the skills and give them some real-life experience.”
Wolff can understand the uncertainty that high school and college students have about which career is the best fit for them, he said, but the diversity of employers partnering with SA Works should help to offer an array of career options.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley also praised employers, students and the interns’ families.
“This gives our students an opportunity to learn about the job opportunities out there,” she said.
Geekdom CEO Lorenzo Gomez recalled how he went from attending Health Careers High School to working for the computer company Gateway, admittedly with relatively little knowledge of computers at the time.
Gomez fostered his skills over time and eventually took a job at Rackspace. He attributes much of his success in the local technology industry to his wife and oldest friends who guided him through major life decisions.
“Everybody needs a personal board of directors,” Gomez said, praising SA Works. “These people have had a tremendous impact on my life. This is such an amazing program because you are meeting your future board of directors.”
Mayor Ivy Taylor did not attend Monday’s celebration, but offered words of praise for SA Works and its interns in a news release.
“It is exciting to witness the talent and potential of these student participants who have been impacted by SA Works’ industry-led workforce and economic development model,” she stated.
Top Image: Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff stands on stage as he congratulates Bexar County summer interns on completing the SA Works program. Photo by Scott Ball.