As a result of the pandemic, the Port of Seattle adapted a virtual high school internship program with a new cohort of local youth each quarter. High school internships are project-based and utilize career connected learning. Given eight weeks, interns are tasked with a project related to Port-related industries and careers. In completing the project, youth build on skills such as researching, public speaking, project management, and networking.
Seeka Cornejo, a senior at Lakeside School, is participating in her third internship at the Port! Seeka was one of twenty-five youth in the first cohort of virtual high school interns that took place last summer and has since been a fall and winter intern. Today we chat with Seeka to learn about her experience in the virtual program, what projects and skills she has developed, how the internship has impacted her career goals, and advice she has for incoming interns.
How did you hear about the Port's internship program?
I learned about the Port’s internship program from a good friend who I met through the Latinx community in Seattle. The Port’s efforts in recruiting youth from diverse community organizations, like El Centro De La Raza, provided me with the connections and resources I needed to start my first internship in the summer.
The first virtual cohort of high school interns started last summer. Thinking back to June 2020, what were you most excited for to be interning at the Port?
I remember feeling both excited and nervous when I started my first quarter at the Port. I was still adjusting to the quick-changing ways of the online world, but I accepted that there was no better way to prepare for uncertainty than to jump in with a positive mindset. I was most excited to meet new people my age who expressed similar interests in building connections and practicing new skills. I didn’t know much about the Port of Seattle, but I soon came to know so much more about the many industries and facilities it manages. However, the most exciting part about starting this internship was the exposure I knew it would offer me to a huge network of career professionals with unique passions—all of who demonstrated a strong and generous interest in helping us find our own paths.
Each quarter interns are given a new project. What projects have you worked on?
The first project we developed was a “choose-your-own-adventure” career pathway tool. The summer cohort was divided into four groups, each representing one of the four Port industries. My team designed the Construction Trades tool. I was able to practice my creative writing by profiling a made-up character who we used to guide our presentation. In the second quarter, I was able to explore a new industry: Maritime. Our team finalized the Maritime career tool from the previous quarter. In both projects, I got to work with a sub-committee of bilingual interns who translated all the presentations to Spanish!
I am currently in my third quarter and working on a project related to the Maritime industry. Our stakeholders asked us to develop a project that would improve the Port’s efforts in reaching their equity and sustainability goals in the Maritime industry. Unlike the other projects, we have been given a lot more creative liberty and while this presented itself as a challenge, our team is excited to move forward with our “small business of the week blog highlight.” We chose to center our project around supporting small businesses given the nature of Seattle’s economy and its reliance on big-name corporations that often drown out local shops. In our research thus far, we have found that advertising and supporting small businesses bridges the opportunity gap capitalism has presented to new entrepreneurs, especially during the pandemic. We also found that many large corporations sell products or offer services that backset the Port in achieving its goals of lowering Greenhouse Gas emissions and partnering with more Women Minority Business Enterprises (WMBE).
What skills have you learned or developed since your first internship at the Port?
I have grown so much throughout these internships. I made the assumption that I would be leaving the Port having learned some new skills that could build my resume and possibly help me in school. However, it became much clearer that the majority of my growth would happen in my communication and leadership skills. In each team I’ve worked with, I found that navigating the virtual group dynamics was the most challenging part due to the unfamiliar setting. During this quarter’s new mentorship program, I received some really good advice about being an effective communicator and active listener. I learned that communication is different for everyone and being able to find a style that works for me will help in every aspect of life.
I also learned how to draft professional emails, set up informational interviews, use different online applications, and how to project manage. I was able to practice my public speaking and presentation skills. However, the skill I am most thankful for having learned is how to network. Amberine Wilson, Jessica Pate, and Jennifer Em have emphasized the importance of making connections and I will be leaving this quarter with exposure to a new world of career opportunities and people who can help guide me through them. Other skills we practiced as part of our project management training is learning how to identify our stakeholders, scope of work, values, current and future states, and timeline schedule.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you have been working remotely. How has the virtual experience been for you?
The virtual experience has been an adjustment for everyone. I would not say that I prefer it, but I also believe that it has been a very necessary and impactful experience. Coming from a community that values togetherness, I strongly prioritize my relationships with the people in my life. Because of this, I was not expecting to connect as a team as well as we did, and I credit this outcome to the Port employees who always kept the work calls lively. Our managers made sure to set a good foundation of trust by allowing time for ice breakers and personal conversations. I found myself surrounded by stories and testimonies that I will never forget. This pandemic has made me more aware that every opportunity is a chance to grow.
What surprised you most about working at the Port?
The thing that surprised me most about the Port is how big it really is. The Port of Seattle is in charge of so many projects and facilities. I was surprised to see how many tasks the Port takes on in its four industries. There is a career for everyone at the Port, and I continue to see how safe and progressive the workplace is. I also admire the variety of backgrounds Port employees come from. As someone who is still starting out, it is inspiring to hear their stories. In my first quarter, I reached out to Sofia Mayo, a procurement manager at the Port, who was excited to introduce me to other staff who could answer all my questions ranging from art at the Sea-Tac Airport to policy-making in relation to the police force. She also set up personal time to help me organize and update my resume. The amount of support and encouragement each mentor has offered has allowed me to grow more confident as a leader.
What advice do you have for incoming interns?
My main piece of advice that I would give to incoming interns is that you get what you give. The interest and dedication an intern expresses towards the program does not go unseen, and while project planning comes with its challenges, keeping a positive mindset will help anyone overcome those obstacles. I would also say that it is important to reach out to Port employees with any questions. Every professional I have talked with was excited to help us grow and learn.
What are you looking forward to, either personally or professionally?
I look forward to finishing our current project and getting to present the finished product to our stakeholders and all the people who helped us along. I am going off to college next year and while finishing my last quarter at the Port is going to be sad, I feel that the preparation I gained at the Port puts me at ease for tackling my goals in the career I will choose.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time, outside of work and school?
Some of my favorite extracurriculars include volleyball, working on projects for the Latinx affinity group at my school, tutoring, art, and writing. I’m also interested in community development, and I find that connecting with others and reading provides great insight into identifying unspoken social issues that need more attention. I always love seeing groups of people working towards a common goal.