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Textron Aviation offers high school students a chance to explore potential careers

Textron Aviation in Wichita employs about 150 high school students and recent graduates for six weeks as part of a summer internship program.
Kevin Swinicki
/
Textron Aviation
Textron Aviation in Wichita employs about 150 high school students and recent graduates for six weeks as part of a summer internship program.

Textron Aviation in Wichita employs about 150 high school students and recent graduates for six weeks as part of an internship program that gives them an early look at career possibilities.

When 16-year-old Jackson Patrick learned about Textron Aviation’s summer internship program at a career fair last year, he quickly applied.

“I have some family … in aviation,” said Patrick, who will be a junior at Halstead High School this fall. “I told them about this, and they said, ‘Do it. I wouldn’t waste any time.’”

Textron Aviation established its high school internship program in 2017 as part of a citywide Youth Employment Project. At the time, city leaders challenged local businesses and industries to collectively employ 1,000 young people over the summer months.

The company hired five high school students that year.

Textron Aviation held a job fair for high school interns to show the various career paths available at the company.
Suzanne Perez
/
KMUW
Textron Aviation held a job fair for high school interns to show the various career paths available at the company.

“I'll be honest, we weren't quite sure what we were going to do” with them, said Michele Gifford, Textron’s head of human resources. “But we learned, and the program just grew.”

This summer, Textron Aviation is hosting about 150 high school students from more than 40 schools across Kansas. That’s in addition to more than 350 college students who work on site full–time for eight weeks. The company also hosts educators for a week-long “externship,” where they learn about potential career paths for students.

The high school interns work 20 hours a week for six weeks, getting a look at the spectrum of jobs available at the company, including engineering, finance, sales, manufacturing and information technology.

“Our hope is that they leave the internship with either of two things: an affirmation that, ‘I love this, and engineering is for me,’ or, ‘I don’t like this,’” said program manager Samantha Zupko. “Whatever area they’re in, it’s really about exploring that area and understanding if they want to make a career path out of it.”

One recent morning, representatives from across the company gathered inside a hangar and set up booths explaining specific jobs and departments.

Margaret Weihe of Valley Center is in her second summer as an intern, and her third position in the company. After discovering that marketing and communication wasn’t her passion, she shifted to interiors engineering and learned about computer-aided design and CATIA software.

“I fell in love with the advanced design aspect … and I really learned what it meant to be an engineer,” Weihe said. “I figured out what I wanted to do with my life.”

Aviation is Wichita's predominant industry. Companies like Textron Aviation offer high school students part-time jobs over the summer to learn about potential careers.
Suzanne Perez
/
KMUW
Aviation is Wichita's predominant industry. Companies like Textron Aviation offer high school students part-time jobs over the summer to learn about potential careers.

She plans to start college at Wichita State University this fall and major in mechanical engineering. With two summer internships on her resume and dozens of professional mentors, she already knows what to expect and what she’s working toward.

“Engineering calculus is going to be brutal,” she said. “But I know I love engineering. This is what I want to do, so I just kind of have to work hard now so I can get a job I love.”

Aviation is Wichita’s predominant industry. Four of the city’s 10 largest employers are aviation-related, with dozens more fabrication companies and aviation-related businesses.

Gifford, the human resources director, said several high-schoolers have turned their internships into full-time jobs.

“We had a student who graduated in May, did this summer program, finished on a Friday and came back on Monday for orientation as a full-time employee,” she said. If employees want to further their education, she said, the company’s tuition reimbursement program helps with costs.

“Students have a lot of choices, but they maybe don't know the reality of what those occupations are,” Gifford said. “Coming in here, they really see what the day-to-day is, and it can open their eyes to the real possibilities.”

More than 500 high school students applied for the company’s 150 positions. Gifford said that shows there’s potential for other companies to welcome high-schools for at least part of the summer.

“There are high school students in south-central Kansas who want to work, who are willing to work, willing to come and learn,” she said. “I just encourage all businesses … to take advantage of these programs.”

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.