By TRAVIS MORSE
---- — MT. VERNON — Two additional Mt. Vernon Township High School students will now participate in a special internship program at National Railway, thanks to an ongoing partnership between the company, MVTHS and the City of Mt. Vernon.
The cooperative placement program, run by the Mt. Vernon Area Vocational Center, was launched last summer. MVTHS students James Campise and Jacob Williamson were the first to take part.
With the program, the two students worked full-time at National Railway during the summer, then switched to part-time when school began. The experience gave them a taste of what it’s really like to work in an engineering position.
“This is something you can’t learn in the classroom,” said Williamson, now an MVTHS senior. “Hands-on work experience is going to set us
apart in the future. It’s definitely an experience you can’t find in any school around.”
Now, MVTHS juniors Abigail Winkler and Graham Henken are poised to join the program, starting this summer.
All four students — plus several National Railway, MVTHS and city officials — gathered at the local National Railway fabricating facility Tuesday for a special event to mark the continued growth of the internship program.
Robert Knutson, director of the Mt. Vernon AVC, said the ultimate goal of the program is to not only give students valuable real-world experience, but to then draw those students back to Mt. Vernon after college to work for local companies.
“We are doing something that isn’t happening in many places,” Knutson said. “It’s a model, not just in the State of Illinois, but nationally.”
While working at National Railway, Williamson has been involved in redesigning parts for the company’s next locomotives. Campise has also worked in mechanical engineering, using software to aid in the design process.
“I think it’s enlightening,” Campise said. “There’s only so much you can learn in class. This work experience has definitely benefitted us.”
Winkler said she is considering going into the engineering field, and that the internship program should be a great help.
“I hope to gain knowledgable experience,” Winkler said. “I’m very excited and thankful for this opportunity.”
Lou Majerchin, director of human resources for National Railway, said the program differs from some internship opportunities in that it emphasizes hands-on work.
“We have expectations of the students that are coming in too — we’re going to put you to work,” Majerchin said. “So you’re not going to be just shuffling papers or whatever. We expect that you’ll learn and contribute to our organization too.”
Organizers hope to expand the program by partnering with additional local companies. Currently, the program is available to Jefferson County and Wayne City high school juniors and seniors enrolled in Project Lead the Way courses at the AVC.
“This is a partnership of progress — progress for this business, progress for the high school and progress for the City of Mt. Vernon,” said Mayor Mary Jane Chesley.
Also present at Tuesday’s event was Bradley University student Jonathan Stowers, who attended MVTHS.
While at MVTHS, Stowers was one of the first students to complete all the AVC engineering courses offered, which gave him a distinct advantage at college, he said.
“It’s a lot of experience,” Stowers said.