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A career to look forward to: that’s Mary Hambor’s hope for each graduate she helps gain an internship or other Capstone project at Valley Regional High School. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Young, eager, and enthusiastic, just needs some job experience. Everybody was there once. Mary Hambor is there all the time. She is the Capstone program coordinator at Valley Regional High School. Capstone projects, required for every graduating senior, usually involve an internship in a local business, professional or service-based office. Some students chose to do an independent project, but Mary must approve it.
The idea is to let graduating seniors obtain and evaluate experience in a field that interests them, as well as encouraging community service and the application of it.
Mary has run an internship program for about 13 years, but it wasn’t until six years ago that a Capstone project was required of every senior. At Valley Regional, the senior class numbers about 150 students.
A program on Thursday, May 30 will celebrate Capstone with a breakfast. Both interns and their mentors will talk about their experiences.
Mary says that finding organizations to participate in the internship program is not as challenging as it may at first sound.
“I’ve worked here so long I have many contacts in the community, and people have always been very supportive,” she explains.
Mary has been at Valley Regional since 1992. Often, she adds, parents whose children have had successful experiences with the internship program themselves volunteer to be mentors.
The internship program has exacting standards. Students must put in 50 hours of work> Some do it over the summer and some do it during the school year. Each student must also fill out checklists, keep a journal, interview his or her mentor, and write a final assessment of the experience in a loose-leaf binder set up for the purpose.
Mary urges students to preserve the record of their activities, because some professions, particularly in the health care and physical therapy fields, require certain number of hours of internship for certification. Students have been able to use their high school experience, if they document it, as part of the required hours.
An internship can introduce students to a profession they are thinking of pursuing; it can also turn into a warning to students that what they thought was an ideal career is actually not for them. Mary points to teaching as an example. Student teaching occurs in the last year of college.
“If you find out it’s not for you, it’s very late in the game, hard to change majors,” she says. “If you get in there now in high school, you have much more information to make that decision.”
Mary says learning to be an effective part of the work force is as much about the soft skills of the business world as the professional requirements.
“Even very bright kids can struggle with some of the things you need to be successful,” she says.
Students learn about everything from shaking hands firmly and making eye contact to how to handle a job interview and how to take telephone messages.
“They do everything on social media, typing things, that’s what they are used to,” Mary explains, “not necessarily verbal communication.”
Still, very often employers are also interested in the social media skills that interns have, skills that employers themselves may not be as comfortable with.
“I get phone calls from people asking for in-demand social media skills, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Young people do that stuff blindfolded,” she says.
Mary uses social media to follow students even after they graduate.
“I love these kids, I get to know them; I have relationships to all of them and I love to follow them on Facebook and learn of their success,” she says.
In addition to overseeing the Capstone projects, Mary runs a Post-Secondary Expo annually for students whose plans do not include four-year colleges. She invites community colleges, technical schools, vocational schools that teach skills like hairdressing and culinary programs, military representatives, and companies that hire right out of high school.
She also is in charge of the College Career Pathways program with Middlesex Community College, which allows students to take Middlesex courses at Valley Regional, for which they receive college credit. In addition she is advisor to the Interact Club, a Rotary-sponsored high-school program that focuses on community service.
This year she has taken on another responsibility, as a class advisor to the graduating Class of 2022.
“I’d never done it before and I thought I’d give it a try,” she says.
As a result, she will have an experience most adults have long since forgotten: attending the junior prom.
Mary grew up in Ohio and majored in psychology as an undergraduate and then got what she describes as “the kind of job an undergraduate with a B.A. in psychology gets.” Two years later she returned to school for a master’s degree in education, focusing on special education.
She loves yoga, even keeping a yoga mat rolled up in her classroom to do exercises.
“It can really help with stress,” she says.
She swims laps at the YMCA and sings in the Shoreline Soul Gospel Choir and on summer weekends she and her husband like to get out in their 19-foot motorboat.
She also loves to travel and says if she ever should retire, the first thing she would want to do is visit Italy again.
“I love the food, the culture, the people,” she says.
Still, she is in no hurry to stop working. She thought when she does she might set herself up as a consultant to help other school districts set up internship programs, but she has no definite plans.
“I think I need a career counselor,” she says.
As she thinks of the students she has placed in internships over the years, she hopes their job paths will be as rewarding as her has been.
“I tell my students that my wish for them is to have a career where they wake up each morning and look forward to going to work,” she says. “I can honestly say that I am blessed to feel that way every day, and I realize what a gift that is.”
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