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UAlbany Students Help "Digital Youth" Succeed

University at Albany senior Melanie Hansen works with a Bishop Maginn student in the NY Wired for Education Digital Youth 2005 Certificate Program. hansen said being an intern in this program gives her experience in the classroom.


University at Albany senior Melanie Hansen works with a Bishop Maginn student in the NY Wired for Education Digital Youth 2005 Certificate Program. hansen said being an intern in this program gives her experience in the classroom.

By Greta Petry (April 8, 2005)

Cat Provost is one of 12 University at Albany interns who are helping high school students acquire job skills through the NY Wired for Education Digital Youth 2005 Certification Program.

Provost, 22, a senior from Pittstown, N.Y., interns twice a week at Troy High at after-school classes that range from 60 to 90 minutes. The high school students have been selected in advance and come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The idea is to strengthen the job skills of city youth through their working in the business community during the summer. Provost and the other UAlbany students earn $10 an hour but receive no college credit.

In the first year of the program, 31 Albany teens from Albany High School and Bishop Maginn took an online curriculum in computer and professional skills. They were assisted by College of Saint Rose interns, and placed, for 20 hours a week for six weeks, at local businesses recruited by the Albany Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"I started interning with NY Wired in January," Provost said. When she heard the company was having trouble finding area college interns, "I knew I could find reliable students at the University. I sent out an e-mail to the National Society of Collegiate Scholars" database, and from there the internship took off running," she said.

The program was so well received by host employers that it has been expanded this year. In January, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno and Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen M. Jimino each secured $15,000 for the program in order to train 30 high school students in Troy and Lansing­burgh in "Digital After­noons," doubling the number assisted last year.

Brian Lee, CEO of NY Wired for Education, said the students from the City of Albany last year "completed 10 online courses, giving them work readiness skills. The 31 kids spent last summer with 23 different businesses, most private sector (law firms, a newspaper, and an architectural firm, for example).

"Surveys of both the businesses and students were positive. This year we expanded to nine high schools, three counties, and expect to graduate approximately 140 students," Lee said. The students are prepared for entry-level office jobs that include computer skills, phone skills, and other administrative duties.

The courses give the high school students a foundation, while the summer employment gives them experience.

"The University at Albany interns have exceeded our expectations," said Lee. "Besides being bright, they have great attitudes and work hard. The schools are thrilled with the quality of the interns." He added, "As many of our high school students come from other countries, it is helpful that many of our interns come from diverse backgrounds."

UAlbany President Kermit Hall recently said NY Wired "is but one step in building a world-class workforce but it incorporates features that I believe are essential to maintaining and growing a world-class workforce."

Provost said the internship has given her a greater understanding of the obstacles faced by disadvantaged youth. "Interning in these classrooms has given me real perspective on just how much harder these students have to work to reach their dreams. Everything from knowing how to answer the phone correctly or how to deal with conflicting personalities at work is new and challenging to the students. I have a greater appreciation for their dedication and a greater empathy for their situation."

Provost said she has also gained confidence in her own public speaking skills. "Commanding a class of 20 high schoolers is hard enough during the school day – doing so for an additional hour and a half, twice a week after school is even more challenging. I've become more keen as to what will motivate people and build their confidence to succeed."

UAlbany sophomore Jane O'Sullivan, 19, of New Rochelle, N.Y., interns at Albany High School. "I make sure they are following in the courses," she said. O'Sullivan is a social welfare major, so working with underprivileged students gives her work experience that will be helpful after graduation. "I would also like to work in a school, so working in a public school is perfect experience," she said.

Justina Wahl, 20, a sophomore from Huntington, N.Y., gave out login names and passwords to the students in her class at Lansingburgh High. Wahl supervises the students, explains the purpose of the program, and answers questions.

"I have really enjoyed this internship," Wahl said. "I love the students and think this program is great because it provides students the opportunity to learn skills they need to know for any type of job and for social interactions. It also allows the students to work at their own pace and rewards them by giving them a paying internship over the summer."

UAlbany senior Melanie Hansen, 24, of Latham, N.Y., who interns at Bishop Maginn, said the students take online classes like The Basics of Listening and Difficult People in the Workplace.

Hansen monitors the computer room while the students are working, and troubleshoots computer problems. "I keep track of their progress, and make sure everyone's keeping up with the work," she said.

While the high school students benefit, the UAlbany interns gain job experience, too. Hansen said, "Since I'll be going into the field of education, this internship is giving me invaluable experience in the classroom, interacting with the students and gaining organizational and planning skills that I will need as a teacher."