ENID, Okla. — What do you want to be when you grow up?
That’s a question often asked of girls and boys when they’re young.
And thanks to EHS Works, juniors and seniors at Enid High School are able to test-drive potential careers to see if that’s what they really want to be when they graduate.
“What better time to find out?” said Gabe Watts, director of Enid Public Schools’ career prep and training program that pairs students with Enid industries.
While they are still in high school, Watts said, students are able to intern for local companies and businesses to get a taste of what a career field is like before they — and/or their parents — spend time and money on college or tech school.
EHS Works benefits student, through hands-on experiences as they explore career paths, and employers, who gain a hard-working employee for six months, or longer in some cases.
“My students want to be there,” Watts said. “They’re very driven, and they want to work.”
Juniors and seniors at EHS fill out an application with Watts, and he determines if they’re eligible to participate in the internship program. He said applicants are vetted based on criteria such as grades and attendance; not everyone is selected. Once selected, Watts then will diligently work to pair the student with a business in his or her chosen career field.
Students in the program initially attend a career-training course with Watts that focuses on tenets of success in the workforce, such as work ethic, best practices, business management and more.
Then students invest up to three hours a day during the school day with the employer, learning skills and completing tasks assigned.
At present there are 61 students enrolled in the 2021-22 program and 31 participating business partners.
EHS at the forefront
When EHS Works began four years ago, Enid Public Schools was at the forefront of the state initiative. Only a handful of schools in Oklahoma were focusing on post-secondary skills and job shadowing.
“There wasn’t a road map,” Watts said about building the program.
He modeled EHS Works after Duncan Public Schools’ Pathways to Future Careers Internship, which had been in place a year at the time, and relied on his business background in marketing to tweak the program to EPS’ standards.
Watts approached several businesses in Enid about the possibility of internships because he considers EHS Works as a great recruiting tool.
‘Supporting the youth’
Keith Holsten, who owns K/H Financial and has had three interns so far, including one who is now a permanent employee, agreed immediately to participate.
Holsten discovered one of the biggest advantages to partnering with EHS Works is his chance to connect to and learn from the younger generation.
“It’s important to stay fresh and engaged,” he said, adding his interns have become great assets for his life-planning and wealth management firm, affiliated with Raymond James, particularly in the area of marketing and communications.
Gretchen McKee, the laboratory supervisor at Envirotech, which also has been an EHS Works partner since the beginning, concurred with the benefits of EHS Works.
Envirotech elected to sponsor the internship program because McKee, along with the former company president and the current company president, are all EHS grads. The civil engineering and environmental consulting firm sees high school, and college, students as having unlimited potential.
“They do valuable work for us,” McKee said, adding that because of that Envirotech pays its interns. Students participate in quality assurance, testing through the Army Corps of Engineers lab on site, design and drafting.
Opportunities at home
Many students who have been interns through EHS Works find the experience they gain invaluable.
Nicole Dirks said her internship with K/H Financial not only bolstered her interest in the financial world but also changed her mind about staying in Enid.
“I was raised here, and it was set in stone I was going to leave. That was my plan,” said the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) student who graduated from EHS in 2020. “I had no idea workplaces like this existed right here in my hometown.”
Dirks credits Holsten with changing her mind thanks to his commitment to helping her find her niche. She started out as an intern for the required six-month period her senior year and has since worked over summers and school breaks. She now does her college courses in finance online and serves as K/H Financial’s client communications coordinator.
Dirks is on track to graduate from UCO in December 2023 and already is pursuing her license to become a registered financial adviser at age 20, which makes Holsten very proud.
“I’m ecstatic. She has a bright future,” he said, commenting he’s actually hoping in about 15-20 years she will buy him out so he can “ride off into the sunset.”
Narrowing the choices
An internship with Envirotech has helped Moksh Mohan zero in on his plans after graduation.
“I wasn’t 100% sure of what I wanted to do,” the EHS senior said, adding he only knew he wanted to go into engineering like his brother, Roshan, who started out as an EHS Works intern at Envirotech, too. Now, Mohan said, he’s narrowed his choices thanks to the experience he’s gained there.
McKee is excited the Mohan brothers will continue to work for Envirotech during the school breaks from Oklahoma State University, adding she’s glad her company is able to ignite passion in students about civil engineering.
In fact, Roshan helped establish Envirotech’s drone service during his internship, providing a valuable deliverable to clients, McKee stated.
“That department continues to grow,” she said, adding now eight of Envirotech’s employees are planning to get licensed to fly drones for the company — all thanks to Roshan’s initiative to learn how drones could benefit engineering.
It’s that type of business professionalism and etiquette that Enid business leaders look for and what EHS Works aims to provide, according to Watts.
“It’s a phenomenal program to support,” McKee said. Both she and Holsten encourage other Enid companies to partner. Watts added if a company isn’t sure if the internship program is a good fit, he can reached via email, email@example.com, or text, (580) 402-3299. He is willing to do a presentation and even bring a student along.
“Let us in the door, and you’ll see firsthand how the students want to better the community and want to experience life,” Watts said. “We have a high caliber of students.”
Photos by: Billy Hefton