Three-Year Work Study Inspires Confidence

May 2017
Maya Concepcion
Intern Maya Concepcion

It's amazing what you can accomplish one day a week over the school year. Maya Concepcion, a 17- year-old senior, works at MITRE every Thursday throughout the school year earning part of her Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School (NDCR) annual tuition.

Concepcion first came to MITRE as a sophomore. And while she didn’t yet have specific career aspirations, she was eager to learn and explore the myriad of science, technology, engineering, and math opportunities at MITRE. "It's been a great thing for me—especially as a high school student," she says. "It's given me a lot of confidence in myself. I've learned how to write software code, and I really enjoy the days I work here."

The Notre Dame Corporate Work Study Program is a fundamental part of the school’s mission, and all their students participate in it. The program enables the students to earn the majority of the cost of their high school education through on-the-job experience at companies like MITRE. The funds MITRE pays for the students' work go directly to the school.

Since joining the program in 2008, MITRE has employed 32 NDCR students.

"Partnering with the NDCR Corporate Work Study Program felt like a natural addition to MITRE's Co-op and Internship Program," says MITRE's Jessica Yu, a former HR recruiter who helped implement the program at MITRE eight years ago. "The mission of the school is to transform the lives of students from economically disadvantaged families by providing college preparatory education enhanced by professional work experience.

"It fits right in with MITRE's charter to work in the public interest and our culture of corporate social responsibility."

(Video) Intern Maya Concepcion talks about her work at MITRE as part of the NDCR corporate work study program.

What a Difference Three Years Can Make

When Concepcion first came to MITRE, she and her classmate Samantha Sanchez joined a software engineering team. Her first assignment: learn some basic software engineering coding skills. Since then, Concepcion has learned JavaScript, HTML, CSS, Bootstrap, and Unity coding.

"My sophomore year, my supervisors gave me very basic software coding assignments," she says. "But the experience taught me the skills I needed to move on to more complicated things."

She adds, "The coding I do now is much more challenging. It involves creating three-dimensional objects for a virtual world."

Her supervisor, MITRE’s Gavin Black, explains. "What they're working on is essentially a qualitative analysis for the Federal Aviation Administration. Their work modeling a city with active commercial drones is helping answer the question, 'What will be some of the impact from the increase of commercial drones in everyday life?'"

The virtual world the interns are developing includes realistic people moving about their day, a detailed cityscape, trucks making deliveries, police cars, and fire trucks, all with drones participating in the action. It’s not all about movement either—it also includes audio. How will the constant humming of the drones' movement affect daily life?

"We're actually creating many different scenarios in the simulation," Concepcion says. "It's been a lot of fun."

Program Encourages Growth

But the value of the MITRE/NDCR internships go beyond learning technical skills. "I feel like I've grown tremendously during my time at MITRE," she says. "I've learned how to adapt in the working world. I know I need to get things done, so MITRE has helped me learn good time management. I also have more confidence."

As the NDCR program has expanded at MITRE, so has the variety of technical opportunities available to the students. This year students are working in several areas such as cybersecurity and communications engineering. They're also doing research in our laboratories.

"The students' contributions bring a new perspective and fresh dialogue to MITRE that helps to continually build and strengthen the community of knowledge sharing that exists," says Bridget LeMon, one of MITRE's intern recruiters. "We love having the NDCR interns with us throughout the year."

Based on the success of MITRE's Bedford NDCR program, MITRE is now partnering with Don Bosco Christo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland, and employing students at our McLean, Virginia, campus.

—by Kay M. Upham

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