Kai Curtis, 17, waited on the crowded platform at Metro Center on Thursday for a train to take him to the Commerce Department in the heart of Washington. He stood with three high school classmates who also were taking Metro to downtown jobs.
The four teenagers were trying out adult life, blending into the thousands of workaday commuters toting briefcases and identification badges.
Two of Kai’s classmates from McKinley Technology High School in Northeast were headed to summer internships at the World Bank in Foggy Bottom. Kai and another teen were bound for their internships at the International Trade Administration (ITA), a government agency within the Commerce Department.
He left his Michigan Park home in Northeast at 8 a.m. so he could make it to work by 9. He needed to put the finishing touches on his presentation, which he was scheduled to deliver at 10 a.m. in a conference room in front of his department head.
“If you go to a professional presentation, you’ll notice that people rarely look at their slides,” Kai said as he reviewed his work, ensuring he had just one concise idea on each slide.
Kai and his classmates are part of a newly expanded D.C. Public Schools program that places 500 students in six-week “career-ready internships” with the Washington Nationals, the White House and Accenture Consulting, among others.
The school system partnered for the first time with the Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program, which allows the interns to earn minimum wage through the city-funded jobs program.
The program, highly popular in the District’s predominantly black neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, places about 15,000 D.C. residents, ages 14 to 24, in subsidized jobs.
The newly expanded “career-ready” internship program aims to place students in summer jobs that match their academic concentrations. Many McKinley Tech students, for instance, have been placed in technology-related internships, while those at Ballou High School’s Hospitality and Tourism Academy might land a summer internship at the Marriott Hotel or Destination DC, the city’s tourism bureau.
Kai is working in the newly established architecture strategy and design department at the ITA. His main project this summer is to collaborate with three other interns to create a shareable and visual digital presentation that explains the new division. They made decisions about whether instrumental music in the background was appropriate — it was, they concluded —and whether the speed of the presentation was too fast.
“Not everyone gets to say they worked in a government building at my age,” Kai said. “There are adults that are struggling to find a job, but I have one.”
For his presentation Thursday, Kai had to research and discuss software that could be used to create the informational video. And his bosses weren’t going easy on him.
He started to present his findings, but his manager quickly stopped him to say that in business presentations, it is typical to outline your assigned task before jumping right into the findings.
“We don’t look at these interns as being separate from the team, we look at them as being part of the team,” said Jeff G. Hall, director of the architecture strategy and design department.
Kai continued, standing in front of the conference room, referring to his manager’s favorite football team as he created a mock animated slideshow on the spot, demonstrating the simplicity of the user interface. He quickly bounced back from a technical glitch, saying, “It’s always something.”
His bosses liked some of the software options Kai presented, and he and the other interns will work to finalize a script for the video. The managers reminded them that the video must function for those with hearing or visual impairments.
Kai said that creating the presentation was a highlight of his summer.
This is the high school internship program’s second year at the ITA, and it has grown to 23 interns from McKinley Tech. Joe Paiva, the ITA’s chief information officer, said he hopes students will build skills that they can parlay into a full-time job. Interns are spread throughout many departments, including the IT and cybersecurity divisions.
The high school students are invited to work as interns at the ITA through college, for a total of six summers. At the end of it, Paiva said, they probably will be offered jobs. As the program grows, Paiva hopes the college students can serve as mentors to the high school interns.
“This is a way for us to grow our own people locally and have people that have roots in this area take these jobs,” Paiva said.
This is Kai’s second summer at the ITA. He knows the mission of the organization, the key players and has mastered the government acronyms. After college, he wants to work at the ITA in a computer-science position that will allow him to travel the world.
“They are learning to identify where they can help the team, rather than have someone hold their hand and tell them what they can do,” Hall said.
Each day, Kai and the three other interns on his team attend their department’s staff meeting, update their colleagues on progress they’ve made, and watch as others volunteer to take on new projects.
“What surprised me the most is that everyone seems to enjoy what they’re doing,” Kai said.