High school interns earn experience, cash at UMass

  • Hannah Nicolson, 16, uses a pipette during her internship at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on Aug.1. STAFF PHOTO/VIVIAN MYRON

Staff Writer
Published: 8/9/2018 5:08:01 PM

AMHERST — This summer, 30 students from high schools across Franklin and Hampshire counties are taking part in internships in local businesses and at the University of Massachusetts, where they work 30-plus hours a week. And they are being paid at every one of them.

“I’ve always advocated for students to be paid,” said Matt Rigney, alternative youth programs director at the Collaborative for Educational Services. “We have to treat them like adults if we expect them to act like adults.”

The internships are being offered through the Collaborative for Educational Services, which secured the participation of the businesses and UMass. Rigney also paired the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center with interns in the UMass jobs to assure that they would be paid.

Rigney said that the collaborative aimed to get 20 students and ended up accepting 33, although only 30 are currently participating in the program. Seventeen of the students are working out of UMass.

“UMass has been a fantastic partner in this,” he said.

The internships started in late June/early July and are set to go through the summer. Those at UMass will be paid up to $2,880.

“For high school students, that’s a real summer job,” said Rigney.

He also said that a number of the employers have said that they will start the students at state minimum wage, as they are required by law, but that they plan on increasing those wages a few weeks into the program.

Additionally, Rigney praised Gov. Charlie Baker’s alignment of workforce and educational systems in the commonwealth, saying it’s better than any other administration he’s experienced in his work.

Talia O’Shea is one of the students in program. A 16-year-old going into her senior year at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, she is working in a biophysics laboratory at UMass.

“I’ve really had a great time,” said O’Shea, who said that everyone at the lab has been super nice and that she’s gotten to run her own experiments and do her own research.

“Getting to do my own research … has been awesome,” said O’Shea.

O’Shea is working with mitotic spindles, and Jennifer Ross, a physics professor and lead investigator at the lab, said that O’Shea will get to have her name included in a publication as a result of her work.

“Talia’s done such an amazing job,” said Ross, who said that she would like to ask her back next year if she is interested.

Hannah Caris, 17, is going to be a senior at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School. She’s working in DeAngelis Lab at UMass, where she’s measuring how enzymes from microbes in soils from Harvard Forest react to heating.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot,” said Caris.

She also seemed pleased at the paid aspect of the internship.

“I’m basically being paid to learn,” said Caris.

Yelena Maher, 17, is going to be a senior at Amherst High School and also has an internship at DeAngelis Laboratory. She is researching how bacteria break down lignin in plants.

“It’s the hard stuff in plants that protects them,” she said, adding that she’s looking at how it can be broken down in anaerobic conditions.

“It really takes the stress off,” said Maher, regarding getting paid to do the work.

Kristen DeAngelis, an associate professor of microbiology, runs DeAngelis Laboratory, which has three total interns from the program this summer.

“We’re really happy to have them here,” she said.

DeAngelis said that Caris’ research relates to climate change, while Maher’s research is an important part of making biofuels competitive, as lignin is a major waste product from making bio fuels.

Maher said that part of paying people for their time is showing them that they’re valuable. She said that paying them also makes it so they don’t have to take second jobs, and that not paying students means that opportunities are only available for the privileged.

The Collaborative for Educational Services will start to recruit businesses for the next round of internships in September, Rigney said. In addition to next summer, some of these internships may also be for afterschool jobs.

As for the reaction of other employers, Rigney said that he has visited several who have reacted quite positively.

“When can we have more?” was the sentiment Rigney conveyed, also noting that he’d heard the desire to bring current interns back.

This was a sentiment that was also expressed by Ross.

Will she participate in the program again? “If they’ll have me,” she said.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy