While interning at biotechnology firm Virion Systems, Quince Orchard High School senior Priti Patel conducted research on a cold virus, HIV, and herpes. Felipe Cocco, a senior at Walter Johnson High School, worked on legislative proposals in the congressional office of Sen. Paul Sarbanes. And Montgomery Blair High School’s Fawn Gwynallen assisted in studies on schizophrenia at the National Institutes of Mental Health.
These students and 11 of their fellow high school seniors were among this year’s class for the Superintendent’s Leadership Program, the only humanities-oriented honors internship in the county. Superintendent Jerry D. Weast started the program out of his desire to offer a small group of students hands-on opportunities they wouldn’t get elsewhere. The students meet monthly with Weast. A total of 88 students have participated in the program, which began in 2000.
“The students who participate in this program are truly exceptional,” Weast said. “I am impressed with their insights and their work ethic. I have no doubt that they will one day be excellent leaders in the community.”
The yearlong program selects students based on outstanding leadership, academic excellence, and uncommon maturity within their schools and communities.
The curriculum is comparable to a college-level course, and students receive two honors credits for participation. Students attend regular school classes in the morning and report for work at their internships in the afternoon. During the program, students meet with industry executives, attend seminars on current workplace issues, write a research thesis, and keep a journal of their experiences.
A diverse group of partners offers internship opportunities to the students. This year’s partners include Montgomery County Government, which made jobs available in the county executive’s office and in the Department of Health and Human Services; United Communcations Group; U.S. Representatives Albert Wynn of Maryland and Eric Cantor of Virginia; the Georgetown University Lombardi Cancer Center; the Rockville Chamber of Commerce; and the YMCA of the National Capital Area.
Kim Jones, program director for the leadership program, says many students have had invaluable experiences while interning.
Working in Sarbanes’ office, Cocco had the chance to work on talking points for the senator. He will attend the University of Chicago and plans to study economics and political science.
“This was the most different thing I’ve done in these 12 years of schooling,” Cocco says. “Suddenly, you’re out of the routine of going to class and doing homework. You’re learning how to behave in a workplace and how to establish professional relationships with people you work with.”
Working with Virion, a Maryland biotechnology company that focuses on prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, helped Patel narrow down her planned field of study. She will attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to study biochemistry, molecular biology and possibly virology.
“You get hands-on experiences you won’t get in a classroom,” Patel says of the internship. “You get a lot of guidance from the mentors and supervisors. If something goes wrong with an experiment, they will help you learn from your mistakes.”
The program also calls on students to complete a group community service project and an international business project, which teach teamwork, entrepreneurship, and cross-cultural understanding. Gwynallen, who will be attending Towson University to study psychology, was one of the group leaders.
“I learned so much about how to interact with a staff and how to motivate people,” she says.
The business project matched the class with students in Scotland. Through the international partnership, MCPS leadership students sent D.C. greeting cards for the Scottish students to sell and, in turn, received Celtic jewelry from Scotland to sell. The MCPS students earned profits of $1,005 and donated half to Micro-Enterprise Program of Community Ministry, a Montgomery County nonprofit.