If you are a high school junior looking for a productive way to spend this year’s summer break and enhance your college admission/application preparedness, consider applying for the Career Exploration Experience (CEE) program.
Organized by the CEO Leadership Alliance of Orange County, this micro-internship experience offers students accepted into the program a chance to experience what it’s like to work for renowned companies across Orange County. There is no cost to participate.
Participants spend five days a week learning about different careers, attending professional skill workshops, and working on projects under the mentorship of leaders from their respective companies.
“The internship program really mirrors what students are going to experience as they exit high school,” said Ulises Garcia, who coordinates college and career readiness programs for IUSD. “It clarifies the reality of the working world for students. While they might have an idea of what it's like, actually working alongside professionals offers them a genuine insight into what to expect.”
What Past Participants Have to Say
Kurtis Wang, a Woodbridge High alumnus and CEE participant in 2022, said he had no plans for the summer when he saw a flyer about the program.
At the time, Wang had a vague idea of pursuing a career in engineering because it combined his favorite subjects — physics and math. But he wasn’t sure what type of engineering he would enjoy. CEE offered opportunities to gain experience in engineering, so he applied.
He was assigned to LPA, an architectural design studio in Irvine. There, he and a group of other students worked on a mock design for the interior of a Comic-Con museum. With the help of architects at LPA, they considered various aspects of design, such as how to entice people to enter the building.
“I initially came in not knowing much about what it means to take up a job,” Wang said. “But after going through this program, I realized a company is made up of many different individuals, each with a different role. It made me realize you don’t have to know everything. You just need to be good at something, specialize in your area, and keep learning more.”
His mentor at LPA even wrote recommendation letters for his college applications. Wang is currently attending Purdue University and plans to major in mechanical engineering, with a dream of working at a robotics design firm like Boston Dynamics.
“Classes can teach you a lot of things, but it’s different in the actual workforce,” he said. “Communication is important, and I don’t think it’s emphasized enough because everyone is just looking at grades.”
Maanik Chawla, a University High graduate, also participated in CEE in 2022.
He was assigned to CLA OC, a coalition of leaders from some of the most prominent companies in the county. His job included interviewing fellow CEE students at other companies and collecting information to create promotional videos and articles for the program.
“I figured out how to become better at time management by blocking out and scheduling my time because you have to work on other people’s schedules in a professional environment,” Chawla said. “I found myself in my senior year, I was a lot more efficient with the way I did things.”
The experience also helped him dispel some stereotypes and misconceptions and discover more about himself.
“I’d always heard from other people that corporate life was the worst thing ever, but I really enjoyed it,” Chawla said. “I had fun working with other people. I’m in engineering because I like building things, but I also realized from interviewing other students that I love talking to people. It definitely opened my eyes.”
What employers have to say
This year’s participating companies include CLA OC, Children’s Hospital of Orange County, EY, UC Irvine, Ware Malcomb, Medtronic, Edwards Lifesciences, OC Public Works, Roadtrip Nation, Ingram Micro, Stradling and Irvine Ranch Water District.
Francisco Arias, director of design at the Irvine-based design firm Ware Malcomb, mentored students assigned to his company last year.
The company developed a course in which students could get hands-on experience, Arias said. The students received lectures about design principles and then applied them to draw floor plans for a house. They built a physical model of their house and created a poster to present their projects in front of designers at Ware Malcomb.
“When they first arrived, they were shy and sitting quietly, but I could see by Week 2 that their comfort level started to change,” Arias said. “Students began to ask me about careers, and we formed a bond as time progressed. The best part was many of them were enlightened by the course and said that’s what they want to do in the future. It inspired them to pursue a career in architecture.”
“That means a lot to me,” he added, “because growing up, I didn’t know what architects do, and I learned it through programs like this and mentors. They made me into who I am today.”
2024 CEE overview
When: June 10-July 18, Monday-Thursday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Eligibility: 16 years and older and must be a junior.
Application deadline: Feb. 16