Work study program prevails, despite the pandemic
Raytheon Technologies volunteers pivoted the longstanding program for high school students
When COVID-19 shuttered schools around the world, Jeimy Javier, then a junior at Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School in Methuen, Massachusetts, worried the pandemic would also mean the end of her school’s corporate work study program.
Javier had been hoping it would give her a feel for the workplace “before I actually get into it, to help me narrow down what I would like to do in the future professionally,” she said.
It turns out that Javier and her classmates got that opportunity after all. Employees from Raytheon Technologies, a longtime partner in the program, found a way to operate virtually – delivering the same level of mentorship and work experience students had received in previous years.
“We knew Raytheon (Technologies) would find a way to keep this program moving forward, even during a pandemic, because it’s so important,” said Sister Maryalyce Gilfeather, the school’s president. She also noted that the program funds part of each participant’s tuition; all Notre Dame Cristo Rey students come from economically challenged families. Students work five days a month at partner companies including Raytheon Technologies, whose involvement in the program dates back to 2006. Since then, the company has hosted more than 200 NDCR students in several areas of the business.
For the 2020-2021 academic year, participants’ assignments included recording and monitoring actions discussed in program meetings, writing and editing team newsletters and following up on suppliers’ purchase order requests. They brought unique perspectives to problem-solving while developing their organizational skills and shadowing leaders in several departments.
After the pandemic cut the in-person program short in 2020, Raytheon Technologies was determined to bring it back in the fall – albeit in an adapted form. The company’s employees collaborated with Notre Dame Cristo Rey staff to develop a virtual model for the 2020-2021 academic year. Students worked from the school’s auditorium while masked and socially distant. They received laptops from Raytheon Technologies in addition to Zoom accounts, training and other resources. Raytheon Technologies participants hosted monthly Zoom gatherings to enrich the students’ learning. One session addressed financial planning for college and another focused on career conversations. Both were especially relevant for the students who graduated this year.
“As well, we developed group projects that challenged the students in this mostly virtual environment,” said Gwen Campero, a senior contract negotiator at Raytheon Technologies and Javier’s supervisor.
These efforts paid off.
“My manager was very supportive, especially this past year, going out of his way to make me still feel like I was part of a team,” rising senior Alana Morel said, noting that the program helped improve her writing and organizational skills.
Morel joined the work study team as a freshman and has had the same supervisor throughout: Ladi Kehinde, a senior program manager at Raytheon Technologies.
“I’ve had great discussions with Alana about her interests after high school,” Kehinde said. “She wants to go to college, and the virtual learning sessions have motivated her to explore funding opportunities through scholarships and financial aid.”
Those sessions also encouraged Alvarado and her fellow NDCR graduate Lu’Andre LeBron, who’ve both decided to study business when they start college in the fall. During the work study program, they researched business environments and cultural attitudes in countries across the Indo-Pacific, including conducting interviews with professionals in that region. Alvarado and LeBron capped their collaboration with a virtual presentation, called “Tips for Doing Business,” to the business development team at Raytheon Technologies.
“That initiative was a great opportunity for the students to collaborate and build presentation skills to prepare them for the work environment of the future. I can’t imagine such a project if the students were not working remotely,” said Campero, “because in past years, they would’ve been working individually in separate assigned spaces.”