Christopher Horton, a rising senior at Frederick Douglass High School in West Baltimore, began this summer with just a rudimentary understanding of computers. Sure, he knew about Windows 95 and some games, but he says that was about the extent of his interest.
Today, good luck getting Horton away from the keyboard.
Now he surfs the Internet, can type at a faster pace and puts together a Power Point presentation with the greatest of ease.
Horton gained this newfound knowledge while employed at the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education's Department of Special Education, located in Homewood's Whitehead Hall. Horton, along with 35 other young adults, were part of Discovering Careers at Johns Hopkins University, a five-week summer program in which city high school students come to work at various Hopkins institutions.
The program is intended to introduce these teenagers to a professional work environment and teach them workplace skills that can be useful in college or when applying for a job.
Discovering Careers is a joint venture with the Futures Program, a Baltimore City-run effort aimed at improving the success rate among a segment of students at six city high schools. Those in the Futures Program, which matches the students with participating institutions, must come from either a single-parent or economically disadvantaged home, or have had some academic difficulty, such as a failing grade.
The students work a 30-hour week and are paid minimum wage by the City of Baltimore's Office of Employment Development while they are acquiring their skills.
Horton says that this summer he learned to do a little bit of everything. He typed, filed, took notes, answered phones, did group mailings and spent a good portion of his time learning how to use a computer.
"It was like a real job," Horton says. "An office is much busier than I thought."
The program ran from June 28 to July 30 and had the highest total of graduates in its six-year history.
Eden Blum, the program coordinator at Hopkins, says that for most students, this is their first job, and the opportunity to work alongside Hopkins professionals can have quite a significant impact on their lives.
"No matter what kind of background these kids come from, every single one has heard of Johns Hopkins, and to work here is very prestigious to them. They really get a kick out of it," says Blum, a human resources program coordinator in the Office of Faculty, Staff and Retiree Programs.
The students are paired with faculty and staff members who act as their supervisors and teach them basic office policies and procedures, such as dress codes and "what to do and what not to do."
Learning to get to work on time is one example.
The city provides bus passes for the students to get to work until they receive their first paycheck; after that, they are on their own.
"They have to learn to organize themselves--to get up early in the morning, have their clothes ready and get on the bus, or whatever mode of transport can get them here," Blum says. "We really stress punctuality. If they are not going to be at work at a specific time, they are told to call and let their supervisors know."
Some students also are prepared for future jobs and higher education by being taught interview techniques and how to write a resume.
Sharon Veatch, administrative assistant in the Mathematical Sciences Department in the Whiting School of Engineering, is a firm believer in the program's ability to improve the chances of these young adults.
"These students get a well-rounded perspective from the people here at Hopkins," Veatch says. "They learn important things like computer skills and how to interact with other people in an office environment."
For the past two summers, Veatch had a "wonderful experience" supervising McKenzie Horton, Christopher's older brother. McKenzie, who also attends Frederick Douglass High School, was the valedictorian of his class and hopes to attend Morgan State or Virginia Union in the fall.
"He was such a pleasure to work with," Veatch says. "He reinstilled my faith in the younger generation. This whole program has really turned it around for me."
Four of this year's students were asked by their Hopkins Departments to stay after the program ended to continue working until they return to school.
One of these students, 14-year-old Alicia Clark, says she was very happy to keep her employment.
"That made me feel really good when they came to me and told me to stay on," says Clark, who did data entry in the International Health Department at the School of Public Health. "I really enjoyed this job. I definitely learned to get along with people better."
Blum says many of the students stay in touch with their supervisors after they leave the program, often using them as references.
Discovering Careers is more than just a paycheck, Blum says. Every year she notices how the students leave the program with a greater sense of self-confidence.
This summer, she adds, that was particularly true.
"The kids really had a great five weeks," Blum says. "I don't know how to better say it other than it was just an incredible success."