When Reagan Richardson ’18 and Kevin Smedley ’19 arrived at their summer internships, they were prepared for wildly different experiences. Reagan was looking forward to three weeks of hip and shoulder surgeries with The Jordan-Young Institute, while Kevin was ready for a month of property visits and market reports with The Dragas Companies. But what they got out of their individual internships through Norfolk Academy’s Career Connections Program was remarkably similar: an engaging, hands-on experience with caring mentors that they will draw on for the rest of their professional lives.
These two young alums are among a larger group of young alumni and Upper School students who are participating in the Career Connections Program, now in its 15th year. The program, an initiative of the Norfolk Academy Alumni Association, has grown rapidly and served as a model for other schools to follow. This summer, 57 interns are working at 35 different organizations in Hampton Roads and across the country; the options cover every profession a student could imagine—arts, engineering, health care, law, and a wide array of entrepreneurial businesses.
The Jordan-Young Institute has been a sponsor of the Career Connections Program since 2014. This summer, Reagan worked primarily with Drs. Kevin Bonner and Justin Griffin. Both Drs. Bonner and Griffin took the time to get to know Reagan, ask her about her interests in health care, and explain different procedures in great detail to maximize her learning during the internship. Drs. Bonner and Griffin each see about 75 patients a day, and Reagan was ecstatic that they were so accommodating toward her: “Even though they were both very busy, they always took the time to talk me through the operation both before and after. They were great mentors and made sure I learned a lot every day.”
In addition to the medical knowledge and experience she gained, she learned that teamwork is a vital element of health care. “I learned that health care isn’t just administered by doctors – there is a whole team of assistants they could not work without. Teamwork is probably the most important part of being in the medical field.” Reagan’s time in the clinic and in the operating room reaffirmed her desire to become a doctor and sparked an interest in studying to become a physician assistant.
The Dragas Companies have hosted more than five Norfolk Academy students and young alumni in the last three years. George and Mark Dragas founded the Dragas Companies in 1968, and George’s daughter, Helen Dragas ’79, serves as its current President and CEO. Nick Baum, Vice President of Planning and Business Development, serves as the primary intern sponsor. Kevin worked with Mr. Baum on visiting properties and learning about how they were constructed, going to potential sites to evaluate their potential, and using data to write reports on how best to market properties.
For Kevin, the best part of his time at Dragas was the breadth of experience that his internship covered. Rather than grinding away at one task for a month, Dragas was able to offer him a wide range of real-world opportunities. Kevin also said that Mr. Baum did a great job of being welcoming and hospitable. “He really made me feel like I could ask any question that I had. That was a huge help, because the number of new things that I learned meant I had a ton of questions.”
Mr. Baum said that the best part of the Career Connections program is the mentorship that he gets to enjoy. He still keeps in contact with several interns from previous summers, and he views communication and close working relationships as very important. “When I came into the working world, I didn’t necessarily have somebody work with me, or take the time to explain things for me,” he said. “So, when Kevin came in, and when previous interns came, I have tried to really take the time to make sure they are getting the best experience they can.”
By Carter Furr ’17, who served this summer as an intern in the Norfolk Academy Development Office