Monday, January 11, 2010

Return of the High School Interns

I have a reputation for doing a good job mentoring high school interns. It started back during my early days at DA in 2000, when my manager wasn't able to keep me busy doing work-related stuff, so when the email went out asking for volunteers to work with a high school intern, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity. These high school kids spend a certain amount of hours per week in the office learning about what it is architects (or whatever profession it is) do, and they get high school credit for it. So far, I've had five interns. The first intern forger her timesheets and ended up realizing that she didn't want to be an architect. The second intern I worked with turned out to be awesome and now works at my office. The third intern lived in an untenable home situation, and I encouraged him to move out and get financial aid ASAP--that architecture would be cool and fun and that his life at the age of 18 would be the worst it ever was. Then, some of you may recall that I had two interns in 2007, and you'll recall that I had issues with keeping these gals busy. Well, it's not so much keeping them busy, but rather getting help to keep them busy, as documented here and here.

The problem with keeping high school interns busy is that it's a lot of work to monitor and teach people who know NOTHING about architecture. Added to this is the difficulty of explaining what's about to happen to them if they go to architecture school first (which is the custom in our profession): school is so vastly different from work that the student's time spent with me must be spent showing them what school is like and what work is like. And that, my peeps, is a lot of work. When I worked with Intern Kimmy and the people before and after her, I was an intern myself; I never had to go to meetings or make lots of phone calls, so I had the time to do time-intensive tasks like work with a high school kid. Plus, the economy was better, and I was allowed to bill any time spent with interns to "Other Approved Time." Nowadays? Not so much. I'm licensed and a job captain, so I'm going to meetings and handling lots of time-intensive and time-sensitive stuff, and I can't bill for that extra time I spend with interns, so giving them a good, solid education and experience is hard.

I email the entire office and explain that even if they only have an hour or two, it's great for a high school kid to learn about what/how/why we do what we do, and many hands make light work, and it's a better experience when they work with a wider variety of people. And out of 90 design staff, I get five replies--two of them are landscape and none of them are interiors. So now, I have to come up with stuff for these po chirrens to do. Fortunately, I have stuff from working with past interns, but I continuously reconsider: is this the right thing for an intern? for this intern? for my profession? And because I'm hourly and can't bill the time, I have to use my lunch breaks to work with interns. And even these lunchtime reviews aren't sufficient to really do a good job. People love to talk about how great Intern Kimmy is nowadays, but I used to spend anywhere from six to twelve hours a week with her, discussing, teaching, critiquing, listening. I don't have the time to do the job right, and it leaves a Shorty rather cranky.

Last fall, Alex, one of our firm's partners and one for whom I've done a great deal of work (including Wheatlands), asked me if I would be the mentor for a high school intern who is the son of a friend of his. I said yes, but I thought Arrrrrgh! not again!! Truly the only reason I agreed to do this is because it's a favor for a partner, who asked me because I have a reputation for working with the interns and doing a pretty good job. As far as I'm concerned, I've done my part. I no longer should be working with the high school kids--after all, I'm doing the seminar series with the actual post-college interns in our office, and that's where I'm putting my effort these days. Give me a break already.

This young man is in the office Tue-Thur, and I must say that he's a bright and pleasant young fellow who appears to be more interested in architecture the more he learns about it. Alex dropped by his desk the other day to see how things were going, and when the young man described what he was doing, Alex exclaimed, "Excellent! That's good stuff to know for school and work!" I sighed inwardly with relief--I may not like it, but I still got it.


cathryn said...

Wow! I sure can relate to this post. I'm going on Day Six today of hosting a high school intern and it has been rough. Volunteers are scarce when it comes to interns. But because I'm a team leader for the ACE program, the partners just assume I can find things to do for an entire week for a high school student who has no prior architectural knowledge. Oy!

I don't think anyone who hasn't done this quite realizes what a chore it is! Thanks for enlightening everyone so eloquently :)

Chris said...

I have never worked with high school interns myself but have established college intern programs at two of the firms I have worked for. The extremes in what you get are vast from one bright and eager young person wanting to make a good impression and absorb all they can to others who can't even dress to meet the already loose guidelines for what business casual is much less take two seconds to remove their iPod earbuds when approached. Phew, how's that for a run-on sentence? At least I can say I run across the former more than the latter. Most of my interns have been awesome.

Miss Kitty said...

You'll do fine with the chirren. This young fella has potential. :-)

Wilderness Gina said...

Ok Do they know one end of a toilet bown brush fron the other? Instant busy work!