Talking About a Teen Work Experience: WorkReady at Drexel

Tish Calvarese and Bilal Farnum

On Friday, 66 Drexel University employees will be out of a job—and on to a few weeks of typical teenage summer fun before heading back to area high schools and colleges.

This week marks the end of the Philadelphia Youth Network’s 2013 WorkReady Internship program, which placed teens in paid work experiences across the city for the summer. In response to Mayor Michael Nutter’s 10,000 Summer Jobs Challenge, President Fry urged Drexel departments this spring to take on at least 50 WorkReady interns. They rose to the challenge.

Interns work up to 20 hours a week, Monday through Thursday. On Friday they take part in seminars on 21st-century workforce skills like flexibility, teamwork, collaboration and what to expect in the workplace.

Bilal Farnum, 17, spent the summer interning for Tish Calvarese, chief information officer in the College of Medicine, and her team in Center City. Farnum is a June graduate of Parkway Center City High School and lives in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia. He heads to Penn State University this fall to study information sciences and technology, but that hasn’t stopped Calvarese from needling him about considering Drexel instead. “We’re still trying to get him here!” she said.

DrexelNow brought Farnum and Calvarese together for a conversation about the WorkReady experience at Drexel.

Bilal Farnum: In middle school entering high school, I knew I needed to build a résumé.

Tish Calvarese: He’s a very serious young man!

Bilal: With the help of my parents I found WorkReady through Philadelphia Youth Network. They sent me on an internship at the Philadelphia Mental Health Care Corporation after 10th grade, and I worked for them for two years. They sent me another request this year, but I thought it was time to move on. WorkReady said I could go to Drexel and see its various IT departments. This one was the most focused, and related to what I did at PMHCC because it was in health care. So I chose Miss Tish, and luckily, she chose me too.

Tish:  We were looking for someone who had an interest in IT even if they were focused on another discipline. I knew that when we got them here, once they got into health IT, they would love the experience.

Bilal: Miss Tish told me she was going to change my perspective, and she did. I actually learned about myself—I came in with the intention to focus on programming when I went to college, but now I’m more interested in the data application development side. There aren’t a lot of people interested in IT and health care, but it’s so important, because who’s going to take control of all of this patient information?

They gave me an overview of the technical and clinical sides of the college and how they work together to innovate and integrate technology into the business. They taught me about HIPAA laws, and we talked about patient confidentiality. I also learned about the servers that link up the whole College of Medicine—they taught me about virtual software to reduce cost and yet secure the college.

Tish: We had Bilal rotate through technical services, help desk calls and being out in the field, and our network and telephony services. Then we brought him through clinical applications, our patient management systems. Now he’s spending time in my office from a strategy, finance and security perspective. We didn’t want him to do busy work or clerical work.

This was the first time that I was aware of WorkReady, and in keeping with the Drexel spirit, whenever there’s a new program we like to participate. We thought it was a good thing to do to help drive students into health IT—there’s a shortage of health information technologists.

Bilal: I was surprised by my change in direction. If I went to Penn State to get in the programming field and I didn’t have this experience, and then I got out in the workforce and started doing programming, I don’t think I would have liked it as much as this.

Tish: I’m impressed with how serious Bilal is for his age, his maturity. And his openness, not to insist on eight weeks of programming. He was very willing to collaborate with us. I would love to keep him for another six weeks.

Bilal: I would recommend WorkReady to anybody my age who wants to do something for themselves over the summer rather than sit around and play videogames.