Local Manhattanville Teenagers Find Opportunities Through High School Internship Program

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Columbia University offers a variety of programs that help local youth gain valuable work experience. One of these programs is the Columbia University Local Community High School Summer Internship Program, a structured, five-week initiative that provides students with practical work experience before graduation. Students from the thirteen zip codes comprising the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and from four zip codes in the Bronx Empowerment Zone are encouraged to participate in this program, as well as other youth internship initiatives across Columbia’s campuses.

Jonathan Samaniego, a former participant in the Local Community High School Summer Internship Program, interned with the Construction Business Services and Communications office in 2011 and 2012. A resident of Manhattanville, Samaniego heard about the internship program from his mother, who saw a flyer advertising the position at a tenant meeting in their building.

“The whole internship process, especially at a prestigious school like this, means a lot and goes a long way on your résumé,” Samaniego said. “People look at you differently when they know you’ve had an internship at Columbia, and the whole experience of me working at a young age, but not being treated as a kid—being treated as a peer—prepared me for the workplace.”

Samaniego graduated from the State University of New York (SUNY) Polytechnic Institute in 2016 with a degree in Biology, and he said he still uses skills he learned during his internship at Columbia. After participating in the summer of 2011, he enjoyed his internship so much he returned the next summer to impart his knowledge to a younger class of interns.

“That was my first job, my first time working in an office,” he said. “What was asked of the interns were real responsibilities that prepared you for the real world.”

Laura intern

Laura Willson

Another former intern, Laura Willson, now attends Hunter College and majors in Computer Science. Her internship in the ticketing office of Miller Theater when she was 14 years old broadened her communication skills and prepared her to manage her time wisely throughout high school, and now in college.

“I learned you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t know something,” Willson said. “It sounds simple, but it’s actually a really important job skill that my supervisor at Columbia taught me.”

Both Samaniego and Willson endeavor to give back to their communities through their chosen careers, as well as in their free time. Samaniego coaches a youth soccer league in the summer, and aspires to secure a career in the medical field. Willson hopes to someday use her coding skills to develop an app that will help make people’s lives easier.

“I want to contribute to the community,” Willson said. “To see people use something that I made will be really rewarding.”

After his two summers at Columbia, Samaniego said he looks forward to entering the “real world”—an often daunting prospect for recent college graduates. It’s because of the environment in which he interned, Samaniego said, that he is so enthusiastic about entering the workplace.

“At a young age I found out that work isn’t so bad,” he said. “The people at Columbia were great, and they made me want to go to work every day. It taught me that being an adult isn’t as scary as I thought.”

The Columbia University Local Community High School Summer Internship Program provided paid internships to more than 50 youth participants.