Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and state Education Secretary James Peyser argue that STEM internships for high school students can powerfully influence their career decisions in ways that will diversify and strengthen our talent pipeline (“Massachusetts students need employers to provide internships,” Opinion, May 19). Agreed. When I was a high schooler in Montgomery County in Maryland, the American Heart Association ran a contest, and 12 students got summer internships at the National Institutes of Health. I placed 13th. Thank goodness some teenager ahead of me found something else to do that summer, and I got the chance to join a real laboratory to see how real science happens. Without question, every career decision I’ve made has been influenced by that first summer internship, guiding my choice of undergraduate major, my doctoral thesis, my postdoctoral fellowship, and then my academic and teaching life.
However, I fear that company support for high school internships will not persist unless employers are happy with the professionalism and work of the high school students they host. And teenagers will shy away from such career opportunities unless they feel skilled enough to learn while they are interns. So yes, let’s open more workplace learning opportunities for high school students, but let’s also prepare students for success by increasing access to industry-informed technical classes such as those in the state’s Innovation Pathway program, and celebrating local companies when they invest in life-changing education.
The writer is a senior lecturer in the department of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder and executive director of BioBuilder, a nonprofit dedicated to STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) and workforce development.