McKinley High Graduate Pioneers Digital Internships During Pandemic

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McKinley Tech grad Zach Greene founded an internship for 40 high school students. Photo: Luke Mason

Zach Greene, a graduate of McKinley High School and current undergraduate at Morehouse College in Atlanta, is a multi-year undergraduate intern at On-Ramps to Careers, a seven-year-old organization founded by Robert Holm and dedicated to making technology and engineering jobs more attainable to DC’s underserved young people.

In the midst of a pandemic and the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement, Greene pioneered a virtual highschool internship program with Acquired Data Solutions with space for 40 student interns, an impressive feat for a program that started with 5 interns just 5 years ago.

Despite the challenges of leading high school interns virtually during a pandemic this summer, Greene taught students in the program how to work with Fusion 360, a 2D and 3D modeling tool that allows engineers to design, simulate and build machines.

However, as complex as some of the technological concepts and tools Greene and his interns at On-Ramps were collaborating on, Greene said his biggest challenge was intern management. “My biggest “aha” moment was trying to find a way to engage the interns to understand teamwork,” he said.

Another significant challenge Greene and his interns encountered was waking up each day while also processing a civil rights movement in their city.

“People were stressed out. But you have to wake up every morning and do work,” he said. “We would have a quick hour every day just talking about how we feel about the situation, how we feel about the pandemic, how we feel about what’s going on with the protest.”

As a leader, Greene said he felt a duty to see his interns succeed in their technological workspace and as young people deeply affected by the Black Lives Matter protests.

Greene’s dedication in both areas paid off; Acquired Data Solutions extended the internship program an additional two weeks, a sign of success but more so a valuable opportunity for Greene and his fellow interns.

The personal aspects of the program were as critical as the technological, he said. The internship with On-Ramps is completely unique in that interns were able to have more intimate and serious conversations along with the technology we’re trying to learn.

“I think it was so crucial, and so important, especially, of course, with this new civil rights movement that’s been going on,” Greene said. “I think that there was an experience that not many internships can provide, I mean, the internships that I had for myself, I hadn’t really experienced anyone talking to me about being black or being a young person.”

Over 40 years ago, Mayor Marion Barry dedicated local funding and doubled the size of the District’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which provides paid job opportunities and internships to DC youth ages 14 to 24. On-Ramps to Careers arranges for technology-focused internships, such as Green’s internship with Acquired Data Solutions.

That opens up additional possibilities. “For 3 years, I self-funded our internship program,” explains Steve Seiden, owner of Acquired Data Solutions. Two years ago, Seiden transitioned the program to On-Ramps so that his team would have the opportunity to work with District youth who had previous job training through On-Ramps.

For Seiden, the purpose of co-sponsoring internships with On-Ramps is twofold: “The goal of the program was to teach them technology and how to socialize [via technology]. We want to get kids to move in a virtual world.”

Even without the pandemic, Seiden understands that businesses and colleges are increasingly turning to remote work and virtual interactions.

“The whole foundation of my program is to help college interns understand that they need management skills in the workplace,” explains Seiden. Reflecting on the recent presidential election, Seiden comments that a lack of opportunity may have motivated many voters who supported Donald Trump.

“Rural America can do back and hand work, not hand and brain work,” he said. Seiden’s intent for his interns is to position them to be able to do “hand and brain work.”

“Zach has to learn brain and hand work so he can get a job in management. Our students have been able to tell a story about how they’ve been able to lead a program in management and they know how to be in the workplace.”

In Greene’s own words, Seiden’s hopes for Acquired Data Solution’s internship program with On-Ramps has been a success. “As I become a part of the global workforce, I’ll be able to go to different places and say, hey, I’ve done this, this and this,” Greene said. “It’s been a real big help as I continue to grow in the space of STEM.”

On-Ramps to Careers continues to expand access to students like Zach Greene while also helping local businesses. On-Ramps’ current goal is to identify business partners throughout the country who want to help train D.C.’s next generation of leaders through technology internship programs. On-Ramp’s goal for summer 2021 is to place 300 DC students into IT internships.

Learn more about On Ramps to Careers at www.onrampstocareers.org.

Jessica Monte is the Director of Loudoun Community Press. You can reach her at [email protected]

An earlier version of this story misspelled Mr. Seiden’s last name. The Hill Rag regrets the error.