Katie Schildgen knows she wants to be a firefighter after interning with the Beloit Fire Department this summer.
Emily Hanson, who interned with HealthNet of Rock County, a nonprofit health care provider, knows she doesn’t want to be a dentist.
The soon-to-be high school seniors gained those career insights through the new Rock Internship Program, which gives students a chance to work in their future careers—and in some cases, figure out which careers they shouldn’t choose.
The program is a collaborative effort between employers, local school districts, Blackhawk Technical College, Rock County 5.0 and the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board. It hosted 22 students who served four-week internships in a variety of places, including Rock County government offices, Diamond Assets and SSI Technologies.
The students were paid to work 16 hours between Monday and Thursday and attend workshops at BTC on Fridays.
The program included a graduation ceremony Friday.
“There weren’t really any earn-and-learn internships in Wisconsin,” said James Otterstein, Rock County’s economic development manager. “We really wanted to integrate the students into the workforce and give them the chance to get some true hands-on learning.”
BTC President Tracy Pierner said the program gave students an idea of what they might or might not want in their futures.
“The students and the employers stepped into the unknown a bit with this program being new, but it has been a wonderful experience,” Pierner said.
At Friday’s graduation, the students presented what they learned.
Schildgen, who attends Beloit Turner High School, got to see firsthand how Beloit firefighters deal with traumatic events, such as multiple-car crashes and water rescues.
“At first, I was wondering how I was going to be able to handle the trauma emotionally, but as soon as I got there, I used my training and realized I really can do this,” she said.
The internship inspired her to take the next steps in her career. This fall, she will take classes in firefighting at BTC and work toward an associate degree in fire science. She plans to be a certified firefighter by December.
Hanson, who interned at HealthNet, said she thought she wanted a career as a dentist.
“I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot, but my internship showed me that this isn’t actually what I want to do,” she said at the graduation.
Pierner said he can see the program growing down the road.
“This is just a starting point,” he said. “Our future goal is to eventually get all area students to receive some sort of workforce experience between their junior and senior year.”
Business participants seem ready to make that happen.
Forward Janesville officials hosted an intern this year and were pleased with the results, said Dan Cunningham, vice president.
“It couldn’t have gone better, honestly,” he said. “We certainly plan to participate in the future, and we are already looking forward to next year.”