Mijares: JPL internship exemplifies collaborative efforts to create college and career pathways

Students often associate summer vacation with beaches, shopping malls and family getaways. But if you ask eight young men and women from Santa Ana how they’re spending their break, they’re more likely to talk about mechanical engineering, aerospace or computer programming.

desk-of-al-smallThese students — all from Century, Godinez, Saddleback and Segerstrom high schools in the Santa Ana Unified School District — have secured highly exclusive paid summer internships at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

This is not merely a job-shadowing exercise. Over an eight-week stretch that concludes on Aug. 14, Paula Casian, Minhanh Chau, Denise Garcia, An Ho, Troyce Morales, Luis Terrones, Michelle Tran and Rosa Yanes will be working directly with science and engineering mentors, performing highly technical work to advance real JPL projects.

This opportunity was made possible thanks to community partners including OpTerra Energy Services and, of course, JPL. And it’s precisely the type of experience that was envisioned when the state Department of Education awarded our own OC Pathways initiative a $15 million grant to expand career pathways for students from kindergarten through college.

Led by the Orange County Department of Education and Saddleback College, OC Pathways comprises more than a dozen school districts, nine community colleges, two major universities, four regional occupational programs, three workforce investment boards, numerous community partners and more than 100 businesses — all focused on carving out clear pathways that will lead students of all backgrounds and academic levels to rewarding careers.

OC Pathways is one example of how OCDE is working to fulfill its vision that Orange County students will lead the nation in college and career readiness and success. I would be remiss in not adding that it aligns nicely with our state’s recent efforts to promote critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration.

Building capacity in these areas is critical for success in a world that has become far more complex and connected than at any time in our history. Suffice to say, the technological revolution that began a decade or so ago isn’t pausing for us to catch our breath, and our global competitors have no interest in waiting for the U.S. to lead the way.

The good news is California is reinvesting in our schools and, for the first time, channeling more resources to the students with the greatest needs. Moreover, our state has put standards in place that take learning to a substantially deeper level.

Our work is far from done, but the Orange County Department of Education and the school districts we serve are highly motivated and, indeed, well positioned to ensure students receive the training and preparation they’ll need to thrive in their lives and careers.

Eight students from Santa Ana are just the beginning.