North Star's Dorann Avey (left) helped create a program that has students Nathaniel Dreher (second from left) and Nguyen Ho (second from right) working with Nebraska Global's Nick Croll (middle) and Nick Sherrill (right).¬†
Two years ago, Lincoln-based Nebraska Global set out with an eight-figure software investment fund and a philosophy.
"We make investments, and it's not just cash. We make investments in communities and in people," explained managing principal Steve Kiene. ¬†
That non-cash investment began with hiring new college graduates to help keep talent in Nebraska. Then, the company began lending a hand to UNL's Raikes School of Computer Science and Management, Kiene (left) said, influencing the curriculum so that more graduates enter the work force with skills that "we" (meaning both Nebraska Global and the community at large) need.¬†
This fall, Nebraska Global is taking the next step by "beta testing" a high school internship program. ¬†Two students from¬†Lincoln's¬†North Star High School¬†are spending three afternoons per week at the company's downtown office, and a third will join them shortly. Nebraska Global is also offering opportunities for class field trips and speakers, individual job shadows and collaborative online projects to all six of the Lincoln Public Schools high schools and its Information Technology Focus Program.
Nebraska Global's efforts give students "experiences that we just simply can‚Äôt provide to them in a high school, and they certainly get a head start on their career path," said Carol Andringa, LPS curriculum specialist for career and technical education. In particular, Andringa said, software programming "is an area that we have difficulty sometimes giving vision to our students about what is available in those career opportunities."¬†
Keine said the program is a continuation of Nebraska Global's strategy. "To us, the logical progression is to keep working down the grade levels," he said. ¬†
Providing "more meaningful" experience
Although Kiene's five-year plan might just include elementary schools, at this point, the high school internships wouldn't be possible without North Star business department chair Dorann Avey, who Nebraska Global met through Lincoln Public School's district offices. ¬†¬†
Avey first connected with Nebraska Global last spring, when her Visual Basic programming class visited on a field trip. Avey said she wanted to get her students "on a path to college and careers" and "make connections between what they're learning" beyond the examples in their textbook.
"If you have some real-world connection, it's so much more meaningful," she said. ¬†
(Right: Ho, at desk, and Croll work together in Nebraska Global's office.)
After seeing Nebraska Global for herself, Avey worked over the summer to arrange internships for three programming students who were willing to rearrange their schedules, delay other courses and commit a fairly significant amount of time to Nebraska Global. She¬†pushed past several hurdles ‚ÄĒ arranging for independent study credit, hand-scheduling the students to meet with her two afternoons each week and adding these meetings to her regular course load. ¬†
Part of the company
Thanks in part to Avey's efforts, 16-year-old junior Nathaniel Dreher and 18-year-old senior Nguyen Ho now have designated work stations in Nebraska Global's office, with the same hardware setup and access to software, servers, snacks and other resources as those around them. ¬†
"We want them to feel that they have some ownership in this, and that they're not just visitors but they are part of our company,"¬†said¬†Amanda Garner¬†(below),¬†Nebraska Global's director of community outreach. ¬†
To that end, each intern also has an assigned Nebraska Global programmer who guides their Microsoft-based curriculum and serves as a mentor. ¬†
As¬†Ho's mentor,¬†Nick Croll¬†explained:¬†"I try to give him more of an environment in which to succeed as opposed to walking him through everything."
"It seems like these guys have a lot more opportunities than I was afforded," Croll continued, "and I think that's awesome."
Which seems to be exactly what Kiene has in mind.¬†
"We expect high school kids to know what they want to do before they leave high school, and that's crazy," Kiene said. Instead, he believes businesses in a variety of industries should follow Nebraska Global's lead and offer opportunities for kids to get out and start exploring career paths.¬†
In a way, Kiene's "investment philosophy" is both self-interested and driven by a larger purpose. As he explained:¬†"I'm making a bet and an assumption that if we intern twenty-some kids and they find out this is what they want to do, they'll probably want to keep some connection with us."¬†¬†
So far, the early results are promising. The enrollment for Avey's Visual Basic class has doubled this year, and both Ho and Dreher are planning to continue studying computer science after graduation. ¬†
"It's been a good experience, and it's only just started," Dreher said, "so I'm looking forward to doing even more."¬†