A dozen local students are part of what local officials hope is a big step toward attracting high-tech business to Surry County, and maybe keeping those students at home when they enter the workforce full time. The 12 are serving internships in local businesses in what school officials are calling the Next Generation Career Academy.

The program aims to help students get experience and training for jobs in advance manufacturing and the so-called STEM-related fields. STEM refers to courses of study in science, technology, engineering and math.

In addition to practical work experience, the students are earning a stipend from the program, funded by a grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation.

The program had its genesis in September, during a discussion by Dr. Travis Reeves, county school superintendent, Dr. David Shockley, president of Surry Community College, and career coach Crystal Folger-Hawks during that month’s Business and Education Economic Partnership meeting.

”Students will complete internships or apprenticeships designed with local business and industry partners that can and will lead to employment,” the school system said in designing its grant application, according to Surry County Schools spokesperson Sonia Dickerson.

“Students will earn industry-related career credentials such as Career Readiness Certification, OSHA Certification, Lean Six Sigma Certification, and certificates from Surry Community College in content areas such as welding, construction, nursing, computer-integrated machining, and electronics,” the grant application stated.

During that September meeting, Folger-Hawks presented a timeline of events that showed the schools establishing business and economic partnerships with agencies in the community; completing an annual analysis of the business and economic development and education partnership; identifying specific industry-recognized certifications that students could earn, such as welding certification, OSHA certification, and career readiness; and by January, identifying specified work-based learning opportunities in industry sites and identifying potential student candidates and conduct intern training.

“The Next Generation Career Academy is right on schedule,” Folger-Hawks said recently in a kickoff meeting with the first group of interns. “Welcome to your first three-day intern training.”

Folger-Hawks, Reeves, and Shockley greeted the 12 students who met the criteria for the internship program. During the training provided by Surry Community College and Surry County Schools, the interns engaged in discussions and activities focused on their work ethic, employer expectations, communication skills, problem-solving, team-building, time management, lean process improvement, and even table manners.

At the end of the week the interns had an opportunity to meet their new employer/mentor at a luncheon before they started the internship on Monday, Jan. 29.

Prior to the students going out to the locations, Folger-Hawks met individually with businesses, toured their facilities, and designed internship opportunities. She matched students to specific careers in the businesses that are participating in the Next Generation Career Academy.

Those businesses include: AES Inc., Chatham Nursing and Rehabilitation, Insteel Industries, Johnson Granite, Leonard Buildings & Truck Accessories, Nester Hosiery, Smith-Rowe, SouthData and Surry Telephone Membership Corporation.

Golden Leaf funds will pay stipends directly to students for their work-based learning internships, as well as funding the costs of textbooks in community college and/or high school courses, and funding transportation costs for students. Several businesses are also paying students for their internship experience.

After one day of his internship program, Noah Reece texted this message to Folger-Hawks, “I’m telling you what I did today I wouldn’t trade for anything else. It was a blast, I love what I did, and hopefully, it will be what I continue to do. Thank you so much for this opportunity. I am really hoping they will take me full time. I have decided just on the first day this is what I want to do. I can’t thank you enough.”

“We got off to a great start with our Next Generation Career Academy extended internship program, and now Surry County Schools is in the position to work with local businesses to develop an apprenticeship program,” said Folger-Hawks.

“It’s exciting to know that we are giving students real-world work skills and they are immediately employable.”