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Grasping their futures

January 5, 2017

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools

Kayla Cuyugan loves animals.

And thankfully Catherine Schultz, a counselor at LaVergne High School, knew of Cuyugan’s love of dogs, cats and, well, just about all animals.

Schultz’s knowledge of Cuyugan’s first love led the high school senior into an internship that she says may lead her to pursue a career as veterinarian.

Cuyugan spent four weeks last summer interning at Rutherford County PAWS as a vet assistant through a unique Rutherford Works High School Internship Program overseen by the Chamber of Commerce, which pairs Rutherford County students with local employers during the summer prior to their senior year.

Like Cuyugan, a new group of students will get the opportunity this summer to gain direct involvement in the job market.

The Chamber of Commerce will begin taking applications for the highly competitive summer internship on Jan. 11. The paid program is open to current juniors who will become seniors next school year.

“I thought it was fantastic,” Cuyugan said of her experience. “I loved every moment of it. I loved the fact that I could have hands-on experience with the animals and they actually let me do stuff.”

She worked mostly with dogs and cats helping with prepping the animals for exams. The aspiring vet also prepared tools being used by washing, sterilizing and wrapping them.

Among her favorite duties were administering rabies shots and other vaccinations as well as drawing blood for bloodwork. Cuyugan noted that cats are more difficult than dogs, so she mostly worked with dogs.

“I was pretty sure,” said Cuyugan, whose desire to become a vet was secured by her experience at PAWS, “but I had doubts, so being able to experience something like that, it really reassured me and took away all of my doubts.”

Cuyugan was one of 20 students to participate in 2016.

This summer, the program is tripling in size and will provide 60 rising high school seniors to spend the month of June interning. One pre-internship session is also scheduled for May 31.

The paid internship offers $10 per hour and students work four hours a day Monday through Thursday and then take part in a four-hour training-based workshop each Friday at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce.

The workshop sessions allow students an opportunity to practice skills along with learning from one another’s experiences.

According to Trisha Murphy, Workforce development coordinator, the Chamber partners with “employers who can offer productive and meaningful work assignments” and ideally each student, like Cuyugan, will have a learning component related to their area of interest.

The idea is to provide a tie to the student’s high school pathway or “something they’re interested in studying in college or career options after high school,” Murphy explained.

The chamber expects more than 600 students will vie for 60 internships in 2017.

The interviews are assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis. Each of the 60 prospective employers will interview up to 10 potential candidates. Each student will be afforded an opportunity to sign up for two different interviews.

“You get different offers and you weigh your options,” Murphy said, adding, “(It) is real life.”

The application process opens Jan. 11 at 8 a.m. and closes at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 1.

Job descriptions are being posted online on the Rutherford Works website as they are confirmed.

Nissan, Bridgestone, Ole South Properties, Schwan Cosmetics, Rutherford County Schools, Murfreesboro Electric, City of Murfreesboro, Town of Smyrna, City of Eagleville, and Hot Topic are among those who participated in 2016 and will again hire interns in 2017.

Hot Topic rewarded their interns with laptops at the conclusion of the four-week program last summer.

“It’s amazing the amount of community involvement we’ve had,” Murphy said. “The folks who participated see the value in it … and most of them have said they were impressed by the student.

“These students can do much more than we give them credit for.”

The interns do more than simply shadow their assigned mentors.

Central Magnet School senior Ben Nelson interned for the City of Murfreesboro last summer in the solid waste department. He was tasked with developing more efficient routes for the sanitation trucks.

Eagleville used its intern to help plan the annual Fall Festival.

“That’s a huge deal,” Murphy said, who described the program as productive and meaningful work assignments.

Carolina Welch, also a senior at Central Magnet School, interned with Murfreesboro Electric.

Welch applied after a planned summer trip to Europe fell through.

She wound up gaining a well-rounded view in several different departments along with sitting in on various meetings, including one where city officials discussed the process of moving a pipeline on Lytle Street.

In addition to helping check on substations and worksites, Welch made “calls to contractors to see what progress they were making and things like that.”

“I’ve never had a job before that, so it was a cool experience for my first job,” said Welch, who will enroll in Mississippi State next school year and is hoping to become an electrical engineer after graduating. “I realized how great of an opportunity it was in the first couple days I went in.”

It was Cuyugan’s first work experience as well.

Both seniors said they were thankful for an opportunity to work somewhere other than a fast food restaurant.

“The experience I now have and the connections that I gained,” said Cuyugan, who has been accepted to multiple schools including the University of Tennessee, “that’s something you can’t actually gain unless you’re experiencing it.”

PHOTO / JAMES EVANS

LaVergne senior Kayla Cuyugan was one of 20 Rutherford County students who were selected for last year's High School Internship Program offered by the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce.