Date June 18, 2024
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As interns, Providence-area students gain hands-on work experiences at Brown

Guided by Brown faculty and staff, Rhode Island high schoolers are completing internships on campus to develop skills and discover career paths in a wide range of subject areas.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Kiley Vasquez, a first-year student at the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center in Providence, has ambitious plans for her future. The 15-year-old has her sights set on two seemingly distinct fields: immigration law and marine biology.

"If I could find a way to do both," Vasquez said, "I would love that!"

So, how will the determined high schooler determine the best path to pursue?


As part of the Met School's Learning Through Internship program, which connects students with industry mentors for real-world projects, Vasquez is gaining valuable insights and skills related to both fields this spring.

Every Tuesday since January, she has traveled to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth to shadow researchers at a seawater lab. On Thursdays, she switches gears, immersing herself in the workings of public safety and police operations as an intern in Brown University's Department of Public Safety. There, she has learned about the intricacies of becoming a police officer and gained a deeper understanding of maintaining public safety on a college campus.

The internships, she said, offer valuable learning experiences that can help high schoolers navigate the at-times overwhelming world of career and educational choices.

"These internships give you a taste of the real world, and that's been a huge help in figuring out what I actually want to do after high school," Vasquez said. "They're a great opportunity to explore different paths before we head into college or a job."

Vasquez isn't alone in this endeavor. She is one of many local high school students — from the Met School and many other local high schools — seizing valuable hands-on learning opportunities, jobs and internships at Brown University. Faculty, staff and students from various Brown schools, departments, offices, centers and programs actively engage with Providence-area schools and communities, hosting dozens of high school interns each year in pathology, chemistry, climate science and more.

Joe Battaglia, director of curriculum and instruction at the Met School, views higher education institutions, including Brown, as crucial partners in providing high schoolers with practical work experiences.

"We have more than 800 students from across the state, each with interests as diverse as you can imagine — everything from veterinarians to musicians, gym teachers to mechanics," Battaglia said. "Colleges are like little cities. When we send kids to a college campus, it's not just about academics; they could be engaging with the IT department, landscaping, food service and more. At Brown, there are a million opportunities for students because of the range of services it provides students and the campus community."

Partnering with local schools

Roughly four out of five high schoolers are interested in a work-based learning experience, according to recent data released by the national nonprofit American Student Assistance. The Met School's internship model, where students participate in internships during the school day, has been recognized as a pioneer in experiential learning, inspiring similar programs across the country for its success in equipping students with practical skills and career insights and laying the groundwork for lifelong success.

Battaglia says the program hinges on partnerships with mentors who connect with students to create real-world learning experiences tailored to their career aspirations. "If it weren't for mentors like those at Brown, programs like this wouldn't function the same way," he said.

Across various academic and administrative units, Brown welcomes an average of six to eight Met School interns each year. With access to spaces and resources on Brown's campus, Met students have ventured into fields such as robotics, astronomy and creative writing, gaining hands-on experience with the physics, computer science, engineering and English departments, among others.

As an intern with the Department of Public Safety, Vasquez shadowed officers on patrol, gaining a firsthand perspective through ride-alongs, and honed essential skills like interviewing and collecting evidence, getting a deeper understanding of public safety procedures. Her exploration of the legal system continued with a trip to the city courthouse, where she toured facilities and witnessed court proceedings.

Vasquez said the internship at Brown has provided her with a firsthand look at public safety work while also furthering her interest in law.

"I started this internship with the goal of understanding the police system, especially since I'm aiming to pursue a law career,” Vasquez said. “It's given me a great sense of things, and I've learned about the different roles and responsibilities within police work. Everyone here, especially my mentor Zara, has been incredibly supportive. She connected me with immigration lawyers and even helped me find summer internships."

The collaboration with Met School is just one example of how Brown community members create internship opportunities for local students. Since 2016, Brown has partnered with the Providence Career and Technical Academy, a technical school in the Providence Public School District. The partnership offers roughly 50 pre-engineering students unique learning experiences on campus. As sophomores, they get a sneak peek at Brown's robotics labs via tours. Then, as juniors, they jump into action with a year-long internship, learning the fundamentals by building and flying drones, completing a curriculum modeled after Brown's Introduction to Robotics course and designed by Stefanie Tellex, an associate professor of computer science at Brown.

For Tellex, introducing local high schoolers to career options in engineering and computer science is vital. Early exposure, she said, equips students with valuable skills.  

"I value having students' voices in the lab," Tellex said. "Understanding their interests helps us better support them and invite them into the world of robotics. It's a great way to broaden participation and democratize access to these technologies."

PCTA's pre-engineering program requires students to complete 80 hours of work-based learning before graduation. Like the Met School, the program thrives on close collaboration with industry leaders, according to Annalisa Marchesseault, one of two pre-engineering instructors leading the program.

"The challenge is finding partners who understand that our students are still learning," Marchesseault said. "They need mentorship, not just projects. Stephanie's been incredible. She tailors her curriculum to their level and lets them explore their interests. It's a truly unique opportunity for our students."

Carlos Zapata, a junior at PCTA, believes working in Tellex’s robotics lab significantly enhances the pre-engineering curriculum.

"It gives us a deeper look into what we're learning and helps us develop new skills in a real-world setting," Zapata said. "Being here feels like a big step up from high school. I enjoy it more because it's much more interactive and hands-on."

Creating immersive learning experiences

While the programs at PCTA and the Met School run during the school year, summer also offers Providence-area students opportunities to engage in intensive work experiences at Brown. Through PrepareRI, a Skills for Rhode Island's Future program that connects rising seniors from public schools with paid, full-time summer internships, Brown will host nearly 20 high school students starting in July. More than half will intern with Brown Athletics, gaining experience in strength training and conditioning, marketing, events, facilities management and sports administration.

Karla Gacasan, senior associate director of athletics for human resources at Brown, said hiring interns and serving as a partner site for PrepareRI is one way the division delivers on its commitment to local engagement. 

High schooler intern in lab
Barrington High School student Kristen Baker works as an intern at Brown through the PrepareRI program. Photo by Christen Owen. 

"Brown Athletics functions as a microcosm of a large, operational organization," Gacasan said. "We have our own business office, HR, marketing, communications and facilities teams, and so we have ample capacity to bring local students onto campus and provide them with valuable first-job experiences, all while aligning with our division's commitment to positive community impact. It's a win-win-win for students, Brown and the community, and we plan to welcome interns every summer."

Providence resident Emma Marion has personally gained from the learning experiences offered by Brown Athletics. The recent Moses Brown School graduate has worked as a part-time creative producer for the past two years, capturing photographs and digital assets for Brown's athletics teams. She said the support from Brown community members was unwavering, and she credits her mentors in athletics communications for her success enrolling in Syracuse University this fall, where she will study journalism.

"Brown is like a family to me," Marion said. "In the two years I've been here, my colleagues have helped me with everything from calculus homework to editing my college essays and preparing me for my future career."

Marion encourages her peers and other young people to tap into the expertise and passion at Brown.

"At Brown, there are all these incredible people with a wealth of knowledge and experience," she said. "So if there's anything you're interested in exploring, anything you're passionate about, chances are there's a dozen people on campus who've already dove deep into that field. They're talented, they share your passion and they're always willing to help you get started on your journey."