A Surprising Opportunity for Growth and Learning

June 7, 2024
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Teens gain trade skills through Washington Park renovation internships

At the Urban Ecology Center, we provide opportunities. Opportunities for students to learn outside the walls of their classrooms; for families to safely explore natural places in the heart of a city; for adults to practice living more sustainably; and for young people to explore green careers.  

The renovation and expansion of our Washington Park location provided a unique (and surprising) opportunity to expand career exploration for young people! In partnership with VJS Construction, Steiner Electric and Quorum Architects, we offered specialized internships and trades exploration to four Milwaukee students:

Semaj V. | Senior | Transition High School
Internship Provider: Steiner Electric

DeMarions J. | Senior | Transition High School
Internship Provider: Quorum Architects

Priya J. | Senior | Transition High School 
Internship Provider: Quorum Architects

Anthony P. | Senior | Washington High School
Internship Provider: VJS Construction 

The students have been working with the contractors on various pieces of the Washington Park project. We recently had a check in with the interns to see how their experiences have been so far.  

Pam Lyons, VJS Construction Services’ Communications Manager, started the meeting by applauding the interns, “The media does not always portray young people in our community in the best light, focusing on the bad instead of the good.  I am proud of you for making good decisions and being role models for others.”

Listening to the interns and their supervisor summarize the first half of their experiences, I noticed that a lot of the learning and growth came from being surprised by the people and the projects - rethinking something they thought they already knew.  Much like thinking Milwaukee youth are up to no good…

Semaj was surprised by his supervisor’s teaching style, “I appreciate how they’re patient with me. I just jumped into this new work and they could have been like, ‘you can’t do this yet?’ but they weren’t.” And he was excited to learn that electricians do a lot more than “cut and connect wires.” He wears a beaming smile when he talks about the stuff he’s learned to build.

Anthony had been warned that construction folks can be a bit crass or vulgar. He adamantly pushed back against that stereotype stating that “No one was like that. Everyone is kind and respectful.” Although, he did mention that everyone needs a shower by the end of the day - not his favorite thing!

Priya thought that architecture was “design everything kind of work.” But, there’s “actually people for just doors or hardware or elevators.  You can specialize in anything!” This completely changed her perspective on the trade and opened career opportunities she didn’t know existed. 

All the supervisors have been extremely impressed by the interns work ethic, willingness to try new things and maturity level at under 19 years old.

While trade exploration is certainly not our niche at the Urban Ecology Center, we are grateful for the opportunity to partner with experts in the field to further develop youth in our community. Terry Evans, Branch Director at Washington Park, reminded the interns that “this internship is the transition to their next opportunity.”

Together, we’ll continue providing opportunities for learning, growth and being pleasantly surprised! 

Past Employee
Guest Author

With a degree in Zoology and Environmental Studies, Michelle began her career as a zookeeper. An American badger remains her favorite animal - having raised one from a cub.

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