The second annual speed networking event hosted by Future School of Fort Smith doubled in participation from local organizations and businesses for year two, and according to April Oden, the school’s internship coordinator, “I think the difference is our kids.”
Oden told Talk Business & Politics that over the last year, students have been “getting out in the community, and people are believing in us more and more.”
“I think our community is more concerned about the future, and they’re investing more in our students, and that’s a really, really good thing,” Oden said, adding the Future School name “probably has more recognition this year, and that has a lot to do with it, too.”
For year one, tenth graders at the newly formed charter met with representatives from 17 area businesses. On Thursday (Oct. 19), the number had risen to 35 with representatives from a mix of public entities and small businesses. Participants included the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office, United States Army, University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS), Peachtree Hospice, and Williams, Weldon, & Lick, to name a few.
If it’s anything like last year, the events will lead to internships that allow students to test and expand their interests, Oden said, adding the internship program has given students the chance to build websites, design magazine covers, and even provide dispatch support for law enforcement.
“We had a girl in the NICU, and she would take care of the babies. She ended up putting together two 100-page journals from what the doctor would tell her to look up and study. They’ve also done hospice and palliative care, and they’ve actually been at the bedside when someone had passed,” Oden said.
She continued: “The things these kids have learned and how they’ve progressed – even our new teachers will say there is an obvious distinct difference from the tenth graders to the eleventh graders because of the way we did our program last year.”
For Thursday’s event, the 150 students attending Future School were divided into four groups and ushered into the school’s gymnasium. They were given three minutes to have a dialogue with a business representative who would provide a business card for future follow-up. At the end of the three minutes, students would rotate to a new table and the timer would reset.
Antania, a student at Future School, credited the event with helping her develop “really good questions” to ask area businesses as she went along.
“The first time through I was a little nervous, but it was something I was interested in, so I was comfortable asking questions,” she told Talk Business & Politics, adding that by the third time through, “it was easy. I had some really good questions, they gave some really good answers, and I was totally comfortable.”
Antania secured her internship with a local photography studio several weeks ago, stating she was “not quite sure I’d be interested in it, but after talking to (the owner) and seeing different challenges that she went through, I thought, ‘I could see myself doing this 10 years down the road.'” Antania is now working on a photography project that will exhibit at the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum. Arvest Bank will house the installation at one of their local branches once the museum exhibit is over.
Oden said the goal of the internship program is to help students build a toolbox of transferable skills, and with this being the second year, “this will be the first time they switch over, and it’s really nice because if they didn’t like the first internship and realized, ‘Oh I don’t want to be a nurse,’ now they don’t have to be a nurse.”
Oden continued: “There is nothing tying them down, and they don’t have to spend money on a degree program to figure that out. So now they can say, ‘I want to be a game designer.’ They’re getting to feel around and discover things with a mentor who’s hands-on and will actually work with them. Their interests change so much. One week they want to be in cosmetology, and the next week they want to be a fashion designer, and then they want to be a nurse. That’s the great thing about being a kid. You can change your mind. And then if you have people to support you and mentor you along the way, that’s a no-fail.”