EdTech & Design, Engagement, Pathways, Promising Practices

Guiding high school students through applied internship projects in college environments: A Met School story

Caption: Said Hassan, an instructor in pharmaceutical manufacturing at Red River College in Winnipeg, is a mentor to students in the Seven Oaks Met School internship program.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Red River College

Many high school students are faced with the dilemma of “what next?” as they go through their final years at school. With new-economy jobs becoming more complex and career paths increasingly convoluted, the decision-making process is no simple task. What do these jobs and careers entail? How does what they are studying in school relate to them? A few students with good scores do end up in their profession of choice, normally a well-known career such as medicine, engineering or law, but many others face the challenge of picking something that is within their reach, interests them and possibly has some career prospects.

Resources within and outside school systems are increasingly being invested to tackle this problem and there are some successes but they are few and far between. There is no single solution to this problem. All parties involved – school boards, postsecondary institutions and public and private enterprises – need to work together to make an impact. Out-of-the-box thinking is needed and new approaches need to be tried and effective models developed.

As a teacher of an applied technology program at a college, I experience the effect of this problem first-hand. Year after year we see students become disillusioned with their educational/career choices, resulting in high failure and dropout rates. In the last couple of years I have talked to high school teachers and guidance counsellors, made presentations and participated in educational events to provide information on the program I teach (pharmaceutical and biotechnology manufacturing) and the industry. The idea is that some dots will connect and some students will be informed about an area that they would not know otherwise.

In 2009 I met a science teacher from Seven Oaks Met School, a school with a unique vision and model of teaching and learning. It didn’t take long for me and my colleague at Red River College, Philip Cheng, to be all ears, listening to and imbibing the concept of Met School. We learned that, as part of their educational model, Met School students spend time twice a week in a work environment of their choice. They then share their learning and experiences with their schoolmates and teachers through project presentations and other activities. At that time a Grade 9 student was interested in an internship in pharmacy and medicine, a close match with the field my colleague and I teach and we decided to give it a try. When we explained our program to the student she became very excited about the prospect of doing her project in our labs. In the next few months she participated in my labs where I was teaching the process of tablet manufacturing. I then engaged her in another project involving chemical analysis of a marketed product to determine its quality. She went on to work with Mr. Cheng on a microbiology project that she subsequently presented in a major science competition (Sanofi Aventis Biotalent Challenge).


Caption: Met School Grade 11 broadcasting student, Adam, with his internship mentor from Breakfast Television, and his teacher, Nancy Janelle. Adam started with Breakfast Television in Grade 9 and worked behind the scenes and on-camera, even producing his own item on distracted driving.)
Credit: Photo courtesy of Seven Oaks School Division

Student motivation and commitment affect me directly and it is not something I could simply wish away. I am also getting an opportunity to learn about high school student mentality, the system they go through and what makes them tick. This provides invaluable insight in how to help them when they arrive in my class. 

Through these projects, she not only learned a variety of scientific techniques but also developed insights into many different careers in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Her work apparently generated some interest among her classmates and we ended up doing a presentation on biotechnology and biotech industry to her class. I learned that last year she chose to spend time in a pharmacy environment furthering her knowledge and experience of the field. Irrespective of what she is going to opt for in her future education and career, I think the experiences she is taking away from being out in the field are invaluable in helping her make the right decision. Last year, as a result of her presentations at her school, another student showed interest in the field and spent a full term in my lab learning different aspects of pharmaceutical technology. We are hoping to have more students from Met School and expand the scope of the projects.


Caption: Grade 11 student, Candace, at her internship with Mondragon Bookstore and Coffeehouse.  Candace immersed herself in all aspects of the cooperative business from the restaurant to the bookstore.)
Credit: Photo courtesy of Seven Oaks School Division

As I reflect on my experiences with Met School students and other mentorships I have taken on, I can’t help thinking that this model could certainly be part of the answer to the “what next?” question, a small part but a crucial one nevertheless. College environments present some advantages as incubators for such projects. College programs tend to be a closer simulation of actual work environments while maintaining academic components. Besides, the emphasis on direct application of learning to solving industrial problems, in my opinion, is a strong motivator to high school students who are disillusioned with the value of what they learn at school. 

The big question is: can we replicate the Met School model on a larger scale? College teachers may wonder how to find the time on top of teaching and everything else. I have to say that some investment in terms of time and energy is inevitable. In my case, I had the participating students attend my regular labs, for most part, while giving them some extra coaching. I also had help from an educational assistant and a research assistant in my program area. As I mentioned, more than one instructor was involved with the same student, which further divided the responsibility.


Caption: Met School Grade 11 student, Madison, at her internship with 10,000 Villages. Madison has a strong interest in social justice and organized a fair trade challenge in her larger school community.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Seven Oaks School Division

I personally think that the rewards of getting involved in this type of work are well worth the effort. Student motivation and commitment affect me directly and it is not something I could simply wish away. I am also getting an opportunity to learn about high school student mentality, the system they go through and what makes them tick. This provides invaluable insight in how to help them when they arrive in my class. When I finished high school, computers weren’t around so a few things have changed as you might agree! This year I am looking forward to interacting more with Met School staff and students and participating in more ways than just mentorship projects. I am also hoping that other programs at the College will take part in the process. Perhaps together we will have a few more of the “what next?” questions answered.     

Meet the Expert(s)

Said Hassan

Said Hassan is an instructor of pharmaceutical manufacturing at Red River College, Winnipeg, Manitoba. He is also a mentor to students on internships from Seven Oaks Met School.

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