I’m Shelley Shrader, teen programs coordinator here at the South Carolina Aquarium.
I believe in the power of investing in today’s teens. After all, we’re leaving the world in their hands to cultivate and conserve. At the cusp of entering young adulthood and spreading their wings (or fins!), teens need our time and attention now more than ever.
Will you invest in this next generation and fund opportunities for them to grow and thrive?
One of our cornerstone goals at the Aquarium is to provide teens with the tools and resources needed to become qualified candidates for future careers in science and conservation. We want to open doors that were once closed and bridge the gap between dreams and reality. We want to help them to develop not only their own personal and professional skill set, but lead by example for fellow peers.
Connecting teens to water, wildlife, wild places and one another is critical, and focusing on serving those in communities with limited resources is central to our mission. Our High School Intern Program, created nearly 20 years ago, provides underserved high school students in the tri-county area the opportunity to join the Aquarium family for a multifaceted training program to test the waters for future careers. As high school interns, teens will learn about core scientific concepts, applicable job skills and collaboration in a work setting. Equally as important, this program allows teens to forge strong connections with fellow peers and build character among career professionals. And just like a formal job, the High School Intern Program also offers opportunities for promotion, where selected teens work directly with biologists and educators to develop their skills and serve as mentors for incoming classes.
I see these teens enter the program with trepidation and graduate with confidence. I see first-hand how important our work is to them. We’re developing so much more than knowledge and skills.
By investing in these teens and clearing a path for success, we are creating a lasting, transferrable impact for generations to come.
Providing compensation for these teens is a key component of the High School Intern Program, and for good reason. Nationwide research has shown that paid interns are more likely to receive job offers than unpaid interns. Additionally, 80% of teens who participate in the High School Intern Program qualify for free and reduced lunch programs at school. Studies have shown that students who qualify for this historically underperform in all school subjects compared to non-qualifying students. The importance of removing barriers for these students to be successful in their future endeavors cannot be understated. We want to offer all the support we can in a variety of ways.
Some of that support we can’t formally quantify on paper, like the environment we cultivate. We want these teens to feel comfortable, safe, heard and respected in every interaction we have. Intern Linda recently shared with us, “I expected it to feel more like a job, and yet it feels more like a place I want to be at, almost like a second home.”
We don’t take the responsibility of stewarding these teens lightly. It’s truly an honor to play a small role in their development, and cheer them on as they take that final jump into uncharted waters toward their future.
Will you invest in the next generation and help us create a firm foundation for teens to build bright futures on?
Together, we can foster a culture of curiosity, confidence and connection. Together, we can teach science education and support the next generation of environmental stewards. In the words of intern Natasha, “The genuine human connection the High School Intern Program resulted in will stick with me forever.”
We have the knowledge to teach and the heart to lead, and we can’t wait to bring you on that journey alongside us.
Published December 6, 2023