Elgin expands STEM internships to include high schoolers
It's not a stretch to say that an internship with the city of Elgin changed the course of Chris Nawrot's career.
Nawrot was a student at Elgin Community College five years ago, working toward an associate degree in engineering science, when his adviser sent out an email blast about a GIS internship with the city.
Nawrot was interested, but had a question.
"I was like, 'what's GIS?'," Nawrot said. After some research into geographic information systems, he decided it looked "pretty interesting" and applied.
Four years of interning later, Nawrot is nearly finished with college courses at Northern Illinois University and has been employed as a full-time GIS specialist with the city for more than a year.
"I was able to use the skills I had already learned in engineering and apply it to something else that I didn't even know existed before," Nawrot said. "I was happy when I got the internship and I'm very happy now. Everything worked out."
The GIS internship that shaped Nawrot's path is now part of a new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) internship initiative by Elgin geared toward college and high school students.
"The city recognizes the importance of developing a high-quality workforce and the key role that local governments play in preparing its community for careers in STEM fields," said human resources director Gail Cohen. "We have many STEM professions, and this is an opportunity to provide rich learning experiences for local youth, as well as add new talent to our various departments."
Elgin has offered internships in engineering, information technology systems (ITS) and GIS previously, but the new program expands the base to other STEM positions and creates 10 new internships for high school juniors and seniors. The idea was pitched during early discussions on the 2021 budget. The new program was included in the budget using existing funding, with the new high school internships costing about $33,000 plus payroll taxes.
The 10 summer high school internships will open to applicants by early April. The program is open to students who are residents of Elgin and are interested in a STEM career with the city's ITS, police, water, parks, engineering and fire departments.
Those interns will work 30 hours a week from June 7 to Aug. 13. All internships are paid positions.
The city will continue its summer youth employment program that previously hired 10 high school students, but that program will now be limited to six students.
Elgin also is looking for college students for engineering, ITS and GIS internships. And, there is an ITS fellowship position for applicants with a bachelor's degree or equivalent combination of experience, and an opening for a licensed environmental health professional apprentice.
Elgin's chief technology officer Jeff Massey said that as all facets of the city become more technology dependent, it's important to prepare the young members of the community who will be the future workforce.
"Having high school and college-aged interns provides a dual benefit," Massey said. "Interns provide the city with fresh perspectives and eager minds to help implement projects, and the city also trains interns in specific skills that help them launch successful careers."
Gillespie said the city will promote these opportunities during the U-46 Annual STEM Expo and the Gail Borden Public Library job fair.