Students get a glimpse of workplace life

ASU job-shadowing program matches mentors with Polytechnic students

man walking up to car

The reality of the workplace can be hard for students to grasp, but a new job shadowing program is giving some Arizona State University students a clearer idea of what their potential careers look like.

Twelve students from ASU’s Polytechnic campus are spending several hours a week this semester with mentors in the East Valley through a partnership with the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce.

Stephanie Salazar, director for East Valley community and municipal relations at the ASU's Polytechnic campus, created a shadowing program several years ago through the city of Tempe, and it was so successful that she launched a similar one last spring.

“It was important to me that students have the opportunity to be mentored, but I also wanted to show the community what our students are doing and the impact they can have,” Salazar said.

“We want them to be workforce-ready and socially embedded.”

The students are being mentored at places including Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK and several medical practices.

Ryan Bain, a junior majoring in air-traffic management, is shadowing staff members in the operations and maintenance department at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. His plan to become an air-traffic controller started at the airport while he was still at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale.

“I took a tour here while I was in high school, and it really piqued my interest,” he said.

“It’s been really insightful,” he said of the shadowing program. “I’ve really seen the commercial side of things at the airport and what the city requires.”

Bain (pictured above at the airport in a photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now) has spent time with the controllers as well as helping the operations staff perform inspections.

Ivan Smith, supervisor of operations at the airport, said this is the first time he has mentored an ASU student.

“We’re here to serve the public,” he said of the decision to participate.

Smith has arranged Bain’s schedule so that he can spend time with several staff members who work different shifts.

"Every day is different. She might go to a kickoff meeting for an event, or film a video or launch a website or meet with people in the community."

— ASU junior Taniyah Williamson, about her job-program mentor

“We have inspections that we only do overnight that have to be done in the dark hours,” Smith said.

“Having him come the same three hours every time would have been very limiting in what he could see.”

Taniyah Williamson, a junior communications major at ASU Polytechnic, is being mentored by Jennifer Alvarez, the digital media and marketing officer for the town of Gilbert.

“I’ve gotten to see all the social-media tools they use,” Williamson said. “Every day is different. She might go to a kickoff meeting for an event, or film a video or launch a website or meet with people in the community.

“She gets to meet so many people, and she’s not a prisoner to a cubicle.”

The shadowing has made Williamson excited for her career.

“It’s been eye-opening knowing that there are so many options open to me for when I graduate,” Williamson said.

The program has enlightened the Gilbert businesses as well.

“It is our goal to provide students with a real-world understanding of the opportunities that exist within their field of study,” said Kathy Tilque, president and CEO of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce. “In many cases, the students have been able to solidify their interests and narrow their scope of study. The mentors that have participated have also found value in understanding the different degrees that may be a fit to their organizations.”

Salazar, who hopes the program eventually can be expanded into a full-fledged internship, said one mentor has already agreed to participate again next semester.

“So you can see that impact when the mentors want to come back,” she said.