Local teens tackle Facilities Services internships

Facilities Focus

Local teens tackle Facilities Services internships

Not many 17-year-olds willingly spend a summer in a warehouse counting inventory and organizing shelves, but ACE Tech senior Adonna Jamison jumped at the chance.

Jamison, who is entering her final year at ACE Technical Charter High School in Washington Park, was one of 12 ACE Tech students who spent six summer weeks working for a variety of departments within the University of Chicago Facilities Services division.

"It's fun and it just flies by," said Jamison, of South Shore, who worked as an inventory intern, counting and organizing inventory and entering data into Maximo, the department's online maintenance management software.

"My typing skills are better and I'm better at making sure things are organized and on time. I just learned a lot from the full time employees. Their knowledge and experiences just trickled down to me."

Creating a supportive environment to mentor teens in a real-life job situation was exactly the goal of a partnership struck between FS and ACE Tech about two years ago, according to Erin Mulrooney, COO and executive director at FS.

"One challenge we have in the facilities world is that we are facing an aging workforce combined with the trend that young people tend not to go into what have historically been considered 'blue collar' fields," Mulrooney said.

"But it may be that they simply aren't aware that there are good jobs, with good salaries and good benefits in building maintenance and skilled trades. We are thrilled to expose young people from the local community to the opportunities here at the University of Chicago and beyond."

The interns worked in a variety of FS jobs and locations, including the engineering shops; multi-trades; landscaping; administration and operations. A total of 23 students have completed the Ace Tech/FS internship over the past two summers.

Brancari Ware, 17, enjoyed his Hull Court-based engineering internship in summer 2011 so much he came back for a second stint this past summer.

"It's a new job everyday. It never got boring," said Ware, of Chatham, who hopes to become a mechanical or chemical engineer in the future.

"It gave me the basics as far as engineering. Sometimes I was working on pipes, sometimes outside working on a/c filters or just checking buildings with my supervisor. I know a lot more about engineering and can spot a lot of things I never even knew about before."

Ware's supervisor, building engineering Foreman Dwight "D.J." Jackson said he initially was unsure how much a teen could contribute to FS work. For instance, due to liability and safety issues, interns can't use power tools, he said, which is a routine part of the job.

"But there's enough work to go around, so we worked around it. And I've got to give the guys credit, no one grumbled about having an intern around," Jackson said. "They're anxious to show what they know and were more than willing to impart that knowledge."

In addition to on-site, daily mentoring, FS also sponsored a weekly lunch program featuring speakers from all areas of FS. Employees covered topics ranging from residential maintenance to trades to campus planning and sustainability.

These luncheons allowed the students to talk informally with a wide variety of FS employees, said Roslyn Johnson, director of FS procurement and economic impact.

"The real heroes in this are the people who are supervising and mentoring the students," she said. "Not everybody has a conventional career track; some people are on second careers, some didn't go to college. The interns get to see there's more than one path to success."

The FS internships are unique to ACE Tech students because the internships offer hands-on, real-world opportunities, said David Fine, dean of student support at ACE Tech.

"To have a real relationship with an adult supervisor who not only cares about your work, but also cares about developing you as a person is extremely valuable to our students. That's what happens with our University of Chicago internship program."

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