EXCHANGE: Student interns solve problems for businesses

By Valerie Wells - (decatur) Herald & Review, Associated Press | Posted - May 15, 2015 at 4:20 a.m.


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DECATUR, Ill. (AP) — Memories are often stirred to life by music, and for those with Alzheimer's or dementia, the music of their youth can part the mists.

"I think it's just seeing how music aids a person, their emotions, and makes them feel things and it brings back memories," said Briana Sykes, who is doing music therapy with those patients at St. Mary's Hospital.

Briana, a senior at MacArthur High School, is part of a new program called Pathways to Prosperity, in which high school students spend Wednesdays in an internship role in area businesses and their task is to solve a real problem for the business. Not only do the students learn job skills, make connections and add to their resumes, but they have a genuine task to do. While they're excused from attending classes on Wednesdays, they are not excused from keeping up with assignments, which also teaches them time management.

Briana's father, John, works at Caterpillar Inc. and he said he's thrilled that his daughter has this opportunity. Parents had to sign off on the program, too.

"She's always been good at setting goals," he said. "I was really glad the school provided this opportunity for kids like her, to really get a hands-on feeling of what it's like in the real world, the real job world. I was really elated that she was interested and motivated to do a project like this."

Briana knows she wants to go into health care, and was debating between the fields of mental health and children, but now she says she's strongly drawn to those with Alzheimer's.

"I think one of my biggest fears is losing all my memories," Briana said. "If I'm able to help other people remember things they've forgotten, it's a reward for me."

The foundation provided some money for equipment for St. Mary's adult day care center, said director Mary Jane Schroeder, and Briana will help do the hands-on work of using music and art to help improve the lives of dementia patients.

Students had to go through an interview process just as they would for any job, said Denise Smith, director of human resources for St. Mary's. Part of that interview was to discover where the students and their interests would fit best to provide a meaningful experience, she said.

"I think it's multi-faceted," Smith said. "We want to work with community members and students to create opportunities, not only for experience, but hopefully filling the pipeline to funnel the future. The other piece that's really important is for us to provide a glimmer of the many opportunities at the hospital. We're like a small community in ourselves, whether it's medical, non-clinical, coding to housekeeping to physicians and nurses."

In the oncology department, MacArthur senior Forest Jacobsen is studying the process of cancer treatments from the point of view of patients. Forest knows she wants to go into a medical field but hasn't yet settled on specifics, and no matter what area of medicine she chooses, understanding the patients' perspective will be valuable, said Valerie Jordan, director of oncology services.

"It's been creative. It's been exciting," Smith said. "I'm sure as we go along we'll get better at it, and I'm glad we're providing a resource for these students."

Forest's parents, Tracy and Matt, called the program "a gift from our community."

Forest said she's considering oncology research as a career, and hopes the experience will help her narrow it down.

"It's great learning outside of the classroom," she said. "I can actually experience it and be with the people who are working in it, and be with the patients, and get a feel for what I would be doing instead of just reading it from a book."

"I'm going to be a doctor," said Dominick Danbury, an Eisenhower High School senior who is working in the cardiovascular center. "I'm not making any guarantees it will be in cardiovascular. Maybe I want to bounce around a little bit."

His task is to track response times to patient call lights, but his main focus is to study physician/nurse interaction. In the process, said Karyn Hembree, executive director of critical care, Dominick will visit a variety of areas, from pulmonology to intensive care to watching a heart catheter insertion.

"(Call light response time) is one of the things nationwide that impacts patient satisfaction, Hembree said. "It's an area that can always stand improvement, so we're going to watch that and also say, OK, what are the barriers to someone getting into the room. I think relationships between physicians and nurses definitely affects patient outcomes and working as a team."

The entire program is overseen by Ashley Grayned, the district's extended learning coordinator.

"There was a need to create some opportunities that were real world, real problems for our students and this was the solution," she said. "How about we pilot an internship program that gets our students out into the community? The goal is that at the end of the 14 weeks, our students will have been involved with a project or a problem and that they'll bring solutions and recommendations for the companies to put into practice."

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, http://bit.ly/1FMXunP

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Information from: Herald & Review, http://www.herald-review.com

This is an Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Decatur) Herald & Review.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Valerie Wells - (decatur) Herald & Review

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