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SEPTA High School Internship Program is a "Dream Maker"

Manuel McDonnell Smith
SEPTA Public Information Manager

Each weekday, thousands of high school students use SEPTA as their pathway to a better future on their commute to school. But a special program allows a select of students to come behind-the-scenes for a hands-on experience that gives them a chance to discover the many technical career opportunities available inside of the Authority.

Launched in 2009, SEPTA's High School Summer Internship Program is a partnership between SEPTA and Transport Union Workers' Local 234 (TWU) with assistance from The Philadelphia Academies. Eighteen students from the vocational programs at Mastbaum and South Philadelphia High Schools are selected to participate in the paid internship program where students spend the summer working in the Authority's automotive bus and electrical rail maintenance shops.

The students are assigned to working shifts that begin each morning at 6:00 a.m. Interns are partnered with a SEPTA employee mentor, who guides them in teaching and learning the wide range of technical tasks that are performed by our mechanical staffs at the Berridge, Woodland, and 69th Street Motor Shops. As the program progresses, the students learn to complete some of the tasks on their own. Despite the early start times, the students say they the entire experience is worthwhile. "Over the summer, I gained not only job skills, but improved on my electrical skills and learned important life skills, like being on time for work," said Kynan Chambers, a student at South Philadelphia High School. Fellow intern Kyle Robinson, a student at Mastbaum High School, agreed and added that he was thankful "to SEPTA and the TWU to have this opportunity to actually give us a chance to learn and show our skills, and for not just thinking of us as kids."

The High School Internship Program also assists in another important goal for the Authority's recruitment efforts, to expose female candidates to technical career opportunities available at SEPTA. "We want to bring even more women into the non-traditional trades workforce," said Susan VanBuren, Assistant General Manager for Human Resources. Two female students earned spots in the 2015 program, including Janeyah Johnson, a senior at Mastbaum High School who worked at the Woodland Rail Shops over the summer. "I was responsible for removing trucks (wheels) from the trolley, inspecting and then helping to rebuild them. I always watched when I saw people fixing up cars, now I know can do those same things. This program has given me more confidence in myself and as a lady."

The program has benefits for our full-time employees also. "Our members are parents too. This partnership is a highlight of our year, enabling us to share technical skills, life lessons, and slowing us to see and share in their sense of accomplishment at the end of the summer," said Darryl Mack, Vice President of TWU Local 234.

Six years in, the High School Internship Program has been "a great success each year," said Van Buren. "This is the second year where we've increased the number of positions from fifteen to eighteen. And it's working. To date, four ex-interns have been hired into full time SEPTA jobs, and four other graduates are testing for future openings." Graduates who have become employees include Irving Then, now a 1st Class Mechanic who recently competed in SEPTA's annual Bus Maintenance Roadeo. "This program is essential for the city. It's a dream maker program. Not only did it help me land my dream job, I was also able to save enough money as a working employee to buy my mother a home. Now, SEPTA is helping me to go even further by supporting my studies at Drexel University where I hope to get a degree in Information Technology. Of course, when I graduate, I hope to work in IT at SEPTA."

You can hear more of Irving's story in the attached video.

The 2015 SEPTA/TWU High School Internship Graduating Class.