The Seattle Center Youth Internship Program is focused on providing meaningful opportunities for youth of color in Seattle, as part of the City of Seattle’s Youth Employment Initiative. The initiative provides exposure and experience in career pathways for youth ages 16-24, and occurs during the summer. Most of the youth come from the Seattle Youth Employment Program (SYEP), one of many youth employment training programs in Seattle. Seattle Center’s internship program, under the larger Initiative’s umbrella, is seeking to create a new model for a truly transformative internship program.
Seattle Center Chief Operating Officer Mary Wideman-Williams created the Seattle Center Youth Internship Program (SCYIP) as a pilot in 2016. Her vision was to create a program that provides exposure to career pathways in arts and culture, creates a shared experience for youth interns and maximizes the partnership of organizations across the campus. Wideman-Williams says that one of her biggest inspirations was her own background: “Growing up as a girl of color, I didn’t have a wide view of career options. I had limited exposure, which limited my thinking about what I could become.” This was one of the many reasons she championed the internship program cohort model, with a race and social justice perspective in mind.
Although Seattle Center had a long history of hiring youth interns through the Seattle Youth Employment Program, the core intentions of SCYIP fundamentally changed after the creation of the pilot. The cohort approach was integral in the success of the internship program because it created a community environment for the interns to advance their learning and create networking connections. Partnership with the Racial Equity Cohort of Seattle Center resident organizations was also key to achieving the goals of the SCYIP. This partnership provided an opportunity to harness the collective impact of more than 30 arts and cultural organizations, many of them non-profits, on the Seattle Center campus. Through this collaborative effort between Seattle Center and partner organizations, internship opportunities on the campus grew from 7 in 2015 to 27 in the pilot year, and 39 in 2017.
The program was built around three elements: job placement, career exploration and a capstone project. Job placement is the site the student gets assigned to work, coordinated through the Seattle Youth Employment Program and the C-West Program. The career exploration component in 2016 was mostly tours and behind the scenes activities around the Seattle Center campus. The students in 2016 produced a celebration event as their end-of-program capstone project.
The program design team learned a lot from the pilot year. One of their biggest priorities to improve the program was incorporating a more intentional racial equity focus. Other goals were to establish a project coordinator role and sharpen the resonance of the capstone project.
The 2017 program received a grant from the Gates Foundation to hire a program coordinator. The program was refined to include weekly meetings of the cohort to explore racial equity topics and plan a capstone event with that focus. The summer concluded with the cohort’s presentation on code switching in the workplace as the capstone event. The presentation was a hit, and showcased the capabilities of the students as well as the growth of the program.
The success of SCYIP lies in its benefit to the interns. The program creates meaningful experiences for marginalized youth and gives students skills and confidence to bring into their future professional lives. Seattle Center is continually planning for its 2018 program, adjusting and building on its previous success to make this year the most impactful summer yet.
Not only does the program have immense value for the interns, but it is also beneficial to the organizations involved. Wideman-Williams says that the Seattle Center Youth Internship Program “helps an organization make that connection to the next generation. It’s as much about us giving a young person exposure to our world as helping us adapt to the next generation of worker. It’s a workforce equity strategy. This is not just an HR function, it’s an economic development issue.” Programs like SCYIP have value to their organizations and are a benefit to the community.
Wideman-Williams had this insight to share with organizations interested in exploring youth internships as a pathway for advancing workforce equity: “Executive level support is critical. Securing engagement of executive level sponsors in each organization to support program goals is a first step, and an ongoing requirement for success.” She also emphasizes the need for clear structural design, a race and social justice lens, program coordination and administration, as well as the value of a cohort model. “Being a youth intern in an organization of any size can sometimes feel intimidating and isolating. Providing meaningful opportunities for youth interns to engage with each other, and with coworkers, offers a richer experience. Having that engagement be intentional around a workforce equity goal or outcome is a plus.”
You can contact Mary Wideman-Williams for further information.