How LAB Internships Are Setting Up Scholars for Success Inside and Outside the Classroom

Brooklyn LAB piloted its co-curricular internship program this past summer, allowing scholars to join seven organizations for six weeks of hands-on, experiential learning in an animation studio, digital marketing agency, and more.

By Kelly king

Brooklyn LAB student Tiara Williams runs her own modeling agency, where she helps young and aspiring models book assignments with brands like Ultra Mobile and trending Instagram boutiques. This summer, Williams applied her skills—and learned new ones—through LAB’s internship program, “Diversified Occupations.” For her internship at the Brooklyn-based digital marketing agency The Smithee Group, Williams created TikTok videos and developed a social media strategy to help the agency attract more Gen Z consumers.

Preparing Interns for Success with Skill Building Trainings

Williams is one of LAB’s 10th – 12th graders who participated in “Diversified Occupations” this past year. The class aims to give LAB students the professional development skills they need to succeed in life after high school. More importantly, the course doubles as a college-readiness program, helping Brooklyn LAB students explore potential future career paths and areas to specialize in during college, while also building meaningful relationships across their peer and professional networks.

For instance, the elective course allows students to conduct mock interviews, build marketable résumés, and learn how to set professional goals. However, the central aspects of the course take place after the students finish their studies and embark on a six-week internship offered by companies in New York City that specialize in everything from advertising and marketing, to animation, architecture, and interior design.

Internships as a place of Social Justice

Internships are an incredible way for students to gain professional experience and apply their academic knowledge to the real world. However, that does not mean internships are available to all students. For instance, students of color are disproportionately underrepresented in internship attainment and pay type. The National Association of Colleges and Employers revealed that white students are more likely to be paid during their internship, Black students are more likely to be unpaid during their internship, and Latinx students are more likely to never have an internship. Brooklyn LAB’s internship program works to address these inequitable trends for Brooklyn’s young people.

Additionally, the internship program at Brooklyn LAB works to address inherent inequities in the professional space that marginalize and exclude professionals of color. For instance, in “Diversified Occupations,” scholars learned about soft skills that help young people of color adapt to a diverse professional world. For instance, the class curriculum touched on concepts like code-switching, a practice of alternating between two different varieties of speech to communicate with different groups of people, and professional dressing. Both of these areas of knowledge are vital survival strategies for workers of color navigating workplaces. LAB educators worked to equip scholars to discuss how they could create more inclusive working environments at their internship host sites.

LAB creates space for students to reflect on this experience as well. They wrote short reflective answers to prompts like “What is an internship in your own words?” and “Why should high school scholars complete one?” to connect their summer internship experience to their post-secondary goals. The program helps students learn how to get the most of their internships.

Internships: Opportunities to Explore Professional Interests  

Internships are an important stepping stone, giving all students an opportunity for the kind of hands-on learning that can ignite a new passion in an unfamiliar industry. They also boost academic learning and expand a student’s professional and social skills. 

Studies show that internships are integral to future employment and a catalyst for post-secondary success. More than 65 percent of interns last year received job offers from companies they interned at, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. 

For a number of Brooklyn LAB students, the summer 2021 internship was their first job, and their first time working with adults in a professional setting. “They’re still trying to figure out exactly what direction they want to go,” said Carrie Miller, the chief operating officer at Augenblick Studios, an independent animation studio that hosted a LAB scholar. “It’s fun; I feel like you’re molding a career trajectory early in the process.”

Expanding Access to Internships for Brooklyn’s Young People

Brooklyn LAB prioritizes career-development and designed the internship program last fall after surveying students about their prior experiences with internships, the industries in which they wanted to work, and the skills they wanted to acquire. LAB’s staff then used these insights, as well as their experience working with Girls Who Code and providing internships through Summer Youth Employment Program, to develop the school’s first co-curricular internship program.

LAB educators worked to create a database of more than 300 potential organizations that could host interns, and reached out to a number of those that could provide experiences that matched scholars’ needs. For instance, The Smithee Group, which hosted Williams and her peers, exposed scholars to marketing tools and tasked scholars with media, research, and brand tasks. 

Courtney Reno, an executive assistant at The Smithee Group, had never worked with high school scholars before, and would often forget that the three interns—Williams and her classmates Savannah Reece and Cruz Grullon—had not yet graduated college. “They were very professional, and they were ready to work,” she explained, adding that they succeeded far beyond the bare requirements.

Gen Z Interns Provide Untapped Perspectives

Internship programs like “Diversified Occupations” benefit more than just scholars. For participating companies, the internship helps build a diverse talent pipeline, increase productivity, and allow companies to gain insights into Gen Z minds. “It’s not every day that I take every part of our industry, rehash it, and reexamine it,” explained Miller of Augenblick. 

The students bring a fresh perspective to the places they intern—as well as deeper experience with new tech and social media platforms. “They bring so much knowledge and information that will generally help these companies—things that you didn’t even think about,” said Reno of The Smithee Group.

Case in point: For her first assignment, Williams’ had to create a social media plan for The Smithee Group. She presented the strategy in the format of TikTok videos, which the company hadn’t used. “The team liked it so much that they actually launched it to the customers and the clients,” Williams said.

Real-world Learning Guides Students’s Post-Secondary Journeys

After the program, Brooklyn LAB students said the internships help them clarify and solidify future career plans. 

For Aaliyah Jamison, an intern at Augenblick Studios, the program helped her think about how to combine her interests of art and STEM. Jamison wants to work at NASA, and the internship made her wonder if animation and space could work together. “If not, I’d like to create a section at NASA for that,” she said.

Miller, who supervised Jamison at Augenblick Studios, is pleased that Jamison is thinking creatively about how to apply her newly acquired animation skills in other industries. “There’s so many directions you can go in with animation—everything from being an artist to doing programming to producing,” she said.

The internship also helped Jamison learn about different career trajectories. By interviewing colleagues in different roles, she learned that not all followed a linear path. “Some of their answers were very funny and interesting to me,” she said. 

Unlike Jamison, Grullon, who interned at The Smithee Group with Williams, didn’t have a career plan. “My goals when coming into this internship were definitely to experience and just to learn as much as I could,” Cruz said. Through his work on media strategy for three brands, he learned a number of useful skills and made connections he plans to take into the future. “I’ve built relationships with coworkers here,” he said. “I’ve learned skill sets that I never thought I would.” Cruz’s exposure to the business side of the office also helped cement his belief that he belongs in finance, which will be his major when he enrolls in Baruch College next spring.

As for Williams, she is applying what she learned now, to grow her modeling business. “I’ve gotten more models because of the advertising that I’ve done,” she said And that has given her a glimpse into a possible future. “I definitely think maybe marketing might be another [avenue for me],” she said.

Brooklyn LAB is recruiting internship hosts for the 2022 summer internship program. Please contact Kelly King at [email protected] if you are interested in developing professional skills for Brooklyn LAB Scholars.

Author: Kelly King, Director of Partnerships, Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools

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Author Bio: Kelly King is Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools’ Director of Partnerships. She is committed to providing scholars opportunities to build their leadership and professional skill sets. Kelly holds a Master’s of Education from the University of Pennsylvania.