Posted on October 26, 2022
Manchester Valley High School junior Connor Pope got a head start on a career in IT this past summer, when he gained valuable work-based learning experience at InfoPathways, a technology management and consulting company based in Westminster, Maryland.
Connor, who turned 17 in July while working at InfoPathways, was one of seven Carroll County high school students who secured internships with area businesses through Penn-Mar Human Services in partnership with Maryland State Department of Education’s Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS).
The Summer Youth Program, as it’s unofficially called, is a Pre-Employment Transition Service (Pre-ETS), one of five available, that is administered and funded by DORS and which provides students with disabilities, ages 14 to 22, with paid work-based learning experiences throughout the state of Maryland. DORS partners with human service providers, like Penn-Mar, to facilitate job development and on-site job coaching during the six-to-eight-week program, which generally runs from the first of July through August.
“Students are welcome to participate in the work-based learning experience throughout the year,” said Maria Buckley, DORS Rehabilitation Supervisor. “We do many of our experiences during the summer when students are on break and have more time to dedicate to the program.”
How It Works
Carroll County students typically learn about Pre-ETS through their schools, who in turn refer interested students back to DORS. Connor’s mom Laura and dad Jeffrey are grateful the Summer Youth Program application came home with their son this past spring.
“I’m glad I didn’t overlook it. It’s one of the best things I’ve done for Connor, because he is doing something meaningful towards a career he’s passionate about,” she said.
As part of the intake process conducted through the school, it was Jennifer Ejk, DORS Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist in Westminster, who first met with Connor and Laura to review the pre-employment program and discuss the young man’s career interests.
“Connor was very confident in asking a lot of questions and sharing his desire to pursue work in the IT field.” said Jennifer. “He also discussed his many past volunteer work experiences that his parents had encouraged.”
As Laura noted, Connor has earned over 750 volunteer hours, including serving food at the Salvation Army Food Kitchen in Westminster.
Once the intake process was completed, Jennifer referred Connor to Penn-Mar, who she said, together with the other agencies DORS works with, do the hard work of finding employment opportunities and regularly checking in on the students while in their work-based learning experience.
Penn-Mar Job Developer Tonya Stonesifer and the nonprofit’s employment team have worked with DORS for years in facilitating the Summer Youth Program. Once the referrals come through from DORS, the team sets up meetings with each student and their families.
“We conduct what we call a mini discovery, where we do a deep but quick dive into what the student wants to do,” Tonya said. “We don’t want to place them in a job, say stocking, if what they want to do is computers. We want it to be a meaningful and rewarding experience for them.”
The students are then placed in positions, where they either just want to learn new skills, look at a potential career path, or just learn about a particular job. For some of the students, it will be their very first job experience.
In addition to connecting Connor with his internship at InfoPathways, Tonya and her team placed the six other students in positions at Weis Markets in Mount Airy, Stratosphere Social in Sykesville, Brooke-Owen Real Estate in Westminster, and Great Clips, a hair salon in Hanover, Pennsylvania.
“All of the businesses were very open to participating in the program and giving these young people a chance to learn new skills and explore possible careers,” said Tonya. “Since the students are paid through DORS, there is no cost to the business, and they receive the benefit of the students’ work.”
Pathway to a Career in IT
InfoPathways sees itself as more than just a cutting-edge technology company. As a proactive part of the community, they have been committed to giving young people a footing in the IT field through internship programs and partnerships not only with Penn-Mar, as they have done on a number of occasions, but also with the Carroll County Public School System, and area colleges and institutions like Carroll Community College, Stevenson University and the Carroll County Career and Technology Center.
When Tonya reached out to them about Connor, sharing his keen interest in computers and technology, they jumped on the chance to bring him on for the summer.
“Connor proved himself very capable assisting our tech staff with day-to-day ticketing and projects for our clients,” said John Mangus, InfoPathways’ Service Operations Manager. “He assisted with everything from basic troubleshooting, helping configure routers and networks, and setting up new computers for people. He powered through his work.”
“I liked my experience a lot,” said Connor, who coaches indoor soccer at the Carroll Indoor Sports Center. “Everyone was helpful and nice. I didn’t have any problems with anything, and if I had any questions, there was always someone there to help me out.”
One aspect of the IT field that Connor was exposed to during his internship, and which piqued his interest was cybersecurity.
“The more I learned about cybersecurity, the more I thought it would be something I would like to do,” Connor said. “Carroll Community College has a program, and you can get a degree in it.”
InfoPathways was so impressed with Connor that they invited him back for a second internship that started in October. “We wanted to bring him back on to encourage him to continue down the IT path as he’ll be leaving high school next year and looking at college,” said John.
“I feel pretty proud of myself and excited to be going back,” Connor said.
For his mom Laura, the whole experience was wonderful, from working with DORS and Penn-Mar, to seeing her son learn new things and thrive at InfoPathways.
“My husband and I are very pleased, and we’re very proud of him too,” she said.