One of the first things Abbigale Whitmore's mother did after immigrating from Jamaica in 2015 was enroll her daughter in Hartford Public High School's Academy of Engineering and Green Technology.
The very next year, Whitmore landed an internship at Aetna—which in turn led to internships at United Technologies, Tech Talent South, and the Old State House in Hartford.
"These internships are what framed me," says Whitmore.
"They shaped me in a way where I know what career direction I want to move towards."
Whitmore was a guest of honor Jan. 30 when ReadyCT executive director Shannon Marimón and CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan addressed 50 Hartford-area business people.
The topic was the internship program at the academy, a career-themed learning pathway within the National Academy Foundation network supported by United Technology Technologies and the Gawlicki Foundation.
"Thanks to United Technologies and the Gawlicki Family Foundation, this NAF pathway continues to be an opportunity for hundreds of Hartford public school students to gain professional exposure in a low risk environment," Marimón said.
Community and business leaders believe the program continues to strengthen the employment pipeline as it expands.
"We're in the works of making our student's pathways more robust," said HPHS principal Kiaundra Smith.
"It takes partnerships like this to make schools work."
"Having the mayor here, business and industry leaders here, as well as community organizations—this is what it is going to take as we redesign Hartford Public High School."
Mayor Luke Bronin agreed that an employment pipeline is one of the greatest opportunities a student can have.
"This is an opportunity to demonstrate the success of this, and really grow it," Bronin said.
"The combination of paid work opportunity, mentorship and curriculum that ties all of this together over a number years is what really makes this powerful."
'All About Our Kids'
Pratt & Whitney's Dave Smith shared HPHS' Puerto Rico and Nepal projects with the crowd, emphasizing that, "it's really all about our kids."
He shared the story of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz visit to HPHS after Hurricane Maria, which inspired students to make solar panels for Puerto Rico.
"This is the hands-on stuff our kids are doing at HPHS," said Smith.
"When they found out there was a need in Nepal and Puerto Rico, these kids learned how to design solar panels."
Brennan echoed Smith, calling on business leaders to support the internship program.
"Whether it's taking on a summer intern or being involved with the YES Academy, the value you'll get out of this program is phenomenal," he said.
"Have you ever heard of the term, 'You have to see it to be it?'" Smith asked the crowd.
"Our kids need to see what it's like to be a professional in that space, what that work looks like, and what that work feels like.
"Principal Smith's job is a lot easier because these kids know what they want to be when they come back from these opportunities."