Rowan-Salisbury Schools hosts first districtwide internship fair

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 5, 2017

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — Wave after wave of high school students crowded into the former J.C. Penney store at West End Plaza on Tuesday. They went from table to table, chatting with representatives of colleges, nonprofit groups, the military and local business owners. Wearing pressed slacks and ties and dresses, the students hoped to land an internship.

“We asked the students to dress up and be prepared to sell themselves,” said Mandy Mills, director of career and technical education for Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

Mills said it’s the first year the school system has held a districtwide career fair. Community representatives featured businesses that offer high school internships as well as those who would be willing to employ a high school student or recent high school graduate.

“So this was kind of twofold,” Mills said.

It also served to help students gain more awareness about what they would need to do to be prepared for their chosen career.

In the past, fairs like Tuesday’s internship fair have been held at individual schools, Mills said. But that can make it hard on businesses — requiring them to stake out a table on multiple days throughout the school year.

“We wanted to make it easier for the vendors,” Mills said.

But as Mills and other are finding out, there is an added benefit. Usually, internship fairs are held in a school gym, Mills explained, and students wear what they would normally wear to school. Hosting the internship fair in a venue like West End Plaza and asking students to dress up hammers home the importance of the opportunity.

“The environment is going to bring a different experience,” Mills said.

While the fair targeted high school juniors for summer or or senior-year internships, younger students also tagged along.

Students stopped at different tables asking serious questions, but there was a bit of fun to be had as well. Representatives of the Marine Corps challenged students to a chin-up contest. Staff members from the Piedmont Research Station camped out with an incubator full of hatching chicks. Woodworkers from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College brought in a small house frame. And Rowan-County Animal Services staff showed off the tools of their trade.

An internship is an invaluable experience for a high school student, Mills said. The experience of working in a field that a student is interested can confirm that it is a right fit. Even a negative experience in an internship is useful — helping to guide students away from careers they don’t like.

“Those are just as important,” Mills said.

Many businesses represented Tuesday don’t offer internships, but they are willing to hire promising high school students, Mills said.

“I seriously hope some of our juniors get employed — get a job,” Mills said.

The internship fair was preceded by a job fair last fall for county eighth-graders.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.