Program gives teens on-the-job training


August 02, 1994|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Sun Staff Writer

Owen Matthews has a word for what he's learned working on budgets and tracking employees' promotions this summer: "Responsibility."

"They give you a project, and you realize they're counting on you to get it done by a certain time," he said.

Owen, a 17-year-old senior at Lake Clifton-Eastern High School who had never before been inside a big office building, is an intern this summer at United States Fidelity & Guaranty Company's Inner Harbor headquarters.

Last week, he stood in front of more than 100 business executives and teachers at an Inner Harbor hotel to introduce one of the speakers at the National Academy Foundation's annual convention.

Owen got there by two years of study in a program at Lake Clifton sponsored by the National Academy Foundation. He took courses in computers, accounting and other office topics to prepare him for the chance to earn $220 a week while getting a glimpse of a life he had never known about.

"It's changed my thinking," he said. "I didn't like the accounting courses at first, but the more I got into it the more I liked it. Now, I've had a look at insurance, and I'm thinking more that maybe insurance is the way to use what I'm learning."

It's also changed Owen's grades, from about a 70 average as a sophomore to about an 80 as a senior. He plans to go to college to study either accounting or computer science after graduating from high school next spring.

"Now I can see that just OK isn't good enough," he said.

The National Academy Foundation grew out of summer internships that American Express began to offer in New York in the 1980s hoping to attract minorities into entry-level jobs.

"But the kids didn't go to work after high school -- once they got inside the headquarters, they started to get ideas, and they went to college," said John Dow, Jr., president of the foundation, which American Express established to take over the program.

"The program failed to attract entry-level minorities but did motivate kids to go to college -- Amex called the experience its most successful failure," Dr. Dow said.

Now about 8,000 students have participated in the plan in cities all over the country, including about 200 at Lake Clifton. This summer, 59 students from Lake Clifton's Academy of Finance are interns at 33 Baltimore-area companies.

"All but four have gone on to college, and two of the four joined the military and may yet go to college," said Kathleen M. Floyd, director of Lake Clifton's Academy of Finance.

This fall, a second Baltimore school, Southwestern High, will establish an NAF program, an academy of tourism and travel. About 50 students will be given courses in geography, computerized room and flight bookings and similar skills to prepare them for internships.

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