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Project Interface Prepares Students for Future of Technology with IT Summer Internships

 Four Rockwood students smile in front of the Ellisville St. Louis County Library branchMost of the students Joyce Liu knows at Marquette High have taken at least an Introduction to Programming computer science course at the school. Lafayette High student Ryan Murphy said that most of the students he’s talked with express at least some interest in learning basic programming.
 
As students gain more exposure to more varieties of technology, they are also becoming more interested in peeling back the layers and seeing how things work. That’s why classes and enrichment opportunities in the field of information technology (IT) are becoming more appealing.
 
“IT is literally everywhere. There is no industry that has not been touched by IT,” said Eloise Zhou, also of Marquette. “A lot of people come across IT indirectly because they first have an interest in something, then they find out what they’re interested in uses IT.”
 
Rockwood Partners in Education (PIE) saw an unprecedented amount of student interest in computer science internships for Project Interface this summer. Thanks to three first-time business partners, PIE was able to place seven students in IT opportunities. 
 
The seven Rockwood students enjoying IT internships this summer through Project InterfaceLiu and fellow Marquette student Aaron Woody are working for BooksToBorrow, Eureka High student Josh Allyn and Marquette students Rishi Ravela and Zhou are working at Iridium, and Murphy and Marquette student Michelle Zhang are working at SyllogisTeks. Project Interface is a unique summer internship opportunity that places rising Rockwood seniors in a career area of interest, providing them with career exploration opportunities while allowing them to gain practical real-world experience.
 
“Now that I’m working in a real-world environment and using a language that a lot of companies use, it’s been really interesting to me,” Woody said.
 
BooksToBorrow is a startup created by Rockwood parent Amit Jha that is creating a social network through which book lovers can connect and share texts. Iridium is another local startup created by Josh Fischer that provides identity management and security for software developers. SyllogisTeks is a firm that helps companies staff IT professionals. At all three companies, Rockwood students are using their interest and knowledge in computer science for real-world applications. 
 
At SyllogisTeks, Murphy and Zhang are building an employee hiring resources portal for the company. Allyn, Ravela and Zhou are writing code to help clients integrate with Iridium’s platform, and Liu and Woody are helping Jha complete a backlog of tasks as he builds out the BooksToBorrow platform and expands its capabilities.
 
“It has been an absolute pleasure,” said Juan de Villiers, software architect at SyllogisTeks. “I am very thankful for the opportunity, as thankful as the students. To be able to share what you know with someone on a very practical level, you can’t beat it.”
 
All four Rockwood high schools feature multiple computer science courses, including Computer Programming; Website Programming and Development; Fundamentals of App and Game Development; and AP Computer Science.
 
Two Rockwood students meet with their Project Interface internship mentor in an officeWhile the Project Interface interns have gained a strong theoretical background through their classes, they say it’s an entirely different experience to see the more tangible results of their programming. 
 
“I love being able to see what I write appear on the screen in front of me immediately,” Ravela said. “The classes I’ve taken built the foundation and allowed me to pursue this internship to get real-life experience.”
 
While SyllogisTeks has an office space where Murphy and Zhang work, almost all of the student interaction with each other and mentors at the other two companies has taken place remotely. 
 
Using tools such as Slack and Zoom, the students and mentors can collaborate, ask questions and give progress updates. While the mentors provide guidance and a framework, getting the job done is largely left up to the students.
 
“We get a lot of freedom to make what we want to make,” Murphy said. “I’m gaining programming skills, which will be useful, but also those soft skills like what I need to possess to hold a job in IT or any computer science field. We’re learning how to lead a group and other life skills.”
 
Rockwood students and their Project Interface internship mentors smile outside the St. Louis County LibraryFischer, Jha and de Villiers all said they have enjoyed working with the students throughout their internships. They have been impressed with not only the students’ knowledge level but their insightful questions along the way.
 
“This experience will be really helpful going forward,” Liu said. “When you start in the real world, there’s a big learning curve. This is a great opportunity to get familiar with how real coders work sooner rather than later.”