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From 5 to 150, Inside Wichita's Largest High School Internship Program

By Emily Younger-Barnwell

One-hundred and fifty students converged on Wichita’s Textron Aviation this summer eager to learn about a wide variety of engaging career fields.

With opportunities in Interior Engineering, Communications, IT, Distribution, Customer Support, Marketing, Human Resources, Sales Operations, Supply Chain and Textron eAviation to name a few, it’s no wonder the long-time aerospace company is home to the city’s largest high school internship program.

Michele Gifford, the human resources director at Textron Aviation, emphasized the popularity of the program after starting with just five interns in 2017.

“In 2023, we had nearly 500 students apply. We interviewed just over 400 for the 150 positions,” explained Gifford.

Interns are not merely volunteers. They are paid and hired as Textron Aviation employees. Each candidate must apply, interview and go through the complete onboarding process.

Margaret Weihe, 18, and Jason Patrick, 16, successfully completed all three steps – joining the 2023 summer intern class in June.

Weihe, a Valley Center High School graduate and soon to be Wichita State Shocker, is in her second year as a Textron intern, specializing in the interior engineering department.

Working on advancing the designs of aircraft interiors, Weihi said she has learned invaluable technical and soft skills including how to professionally navigate and network in a corporate environment.

Additionally, Weihe’s time at Textron Aviation opened new possibilities, leading her to uncover an alternative career path.

“I took marketing in high school and loved the content, so I thought I should pursue a career in that area. However, after doing an internship with Textron Aviation last summer in that field, I quickly learned that it was not something that interested me professionally or used my skillset,” explained Weihi. “Then, another surprise occurred when I found out how supportive my supervisor was on helping me explore other opportunities across the company like IT, finance, sales, engineering, etc. I eventually job shadowed someone in engineering and fell in love with it!”

Weihe will begin earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Wichita State University in the fall with plans to pursue a master’s degree in business administration in the years to come.

“I would love to someday pursue a career in aviation because I love the challenge of designing amazing things while still making them light enough to fly,” she expressed.

Fellow intern Jason Patrick also has his eyes set on a career in aviation. The soon-to-be junior at Halstead High School has plans to graduate a semester early to pursue a full-time job in Textron’s sheet-metal fabrication department.

“I have always been interested in aviation. When I had the chance to pursue aviation, I didn’t waste any time,” Patrick explained.

During his six-week internship, Patrick learned to drill holes and shoot rivets into sheet metal, read blueprints and use a variety of measuring tools. He then used those skills to build his own toolbox. The teenager admitted sheet-metal fabrication is more complex than he imagined.

“It is not something you can just walk into the shop, pick up a drill, and start drilling holes. This trade requires a lot of training and guidance from your trainers and people who have been in the trade for a long time,” he said as he thanked his Textron Aviation mentors.

Despite the early mornings and at times intense days, Patrick and Weihe agree – internships are vital in the career-building process.  

“It has helped me decide what I want to do and given me a boost for my future career. It has helped me build relationships with people already in the field as well as within Textron Aviation, where I hope to work after I graduate,” Patrick said.

Weihe explained, “The biggest takeaway I have from my experience at Textron Aviation is the professional world is a lot bigger than you think and full of opportunities to explore until you find a role that fits your wants and needs. Luckily, the team at Textron Aviation really supports and helps you to navigate and explore all your options.”

To learn more about high school and college internships and Co-Op programs click here. To explore current opportunities, click here

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