You know you’re doing something right when...
...interns come to work early to ride our bikes, to hang out with each other, basically, to just be here.
...interns linger instead of leaving the last day of work.
...interns ask if they can come back next year.
All that happened this year.
Read how our summer 2017 interns described the experience here.
PortSide goals and method during the preservation internship
2017 was our third summer providing CTE (Career Technical Education, what used to be called vocational) summer internships with a marvelous, preservation-focused school, the Williamsburg High School of Architecture & Design (WHSAD). The students are paid by the Department of Education. The group of five from WHSAD (Gloriveht, Jared, Johnathan, Kenny, and Zunayed) was joined by a Brandeis college student Tazio who wanted to intern with us. Tazio was great about fitting into the program and offered the other interns the benefit of his experience.
The WHSAD students come to us with very basic trade skills, and we present them with the real-world task of restoring a 79-year old ship, the MARY A. WHALEN, that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
We do a lot of training, and the work can be tough. Nothing hotter than a steel deck on a hot, sunny day! This summer’s work was mostly painting steel with some varnish work; and the interns also did rigging to move heavy davits, rescued plywood from the harbor, and other physical tasks.
Beyond preserving our ship, the goals of the internship are youth development and education about the harbor. We strive to provide a supportive, fun environment that teaches life skills that the interns will use on any future job.
Here’s a list of the main aspects. We've got some stories below the list.
- We teach them trade skills and what makes for a good employee.
- We provide an affirmative, fun environment and space so they can explore and learn on their own.
- We give them each the experience of being project manager for a week.
- We introduce them to a project manager app.
- We have them write a blogpost to practice describing their work experience.
- We tell them stories from our own work life.
- We give them experience sailing, rowing and kayaking.
- We educate them about the harobor and give them a harbor tour using the NYC Ferry, Citibike and the fireboat HARVEY.
- This year, we could offer the special experience of the Formula E car race on site. They attended the ribbon cutting, got a behind the scenes tour and attended one race day.
This is the first paid job for many of them, so we work hard to make sure we give them a good baseline. People tell stories about their first job for the rest of their lives.
We evolve our approach every year based on situations that arrive. Sample story from this year:
- Where are your brushes?
- I don’t know (said several interns)
- We went out, bought all new ones, labelled the brushes and their sleeves with each intern’s name and declared that, at the end of the internship, there would be a Best Brush competition for both Varnish and Paint categories with prizes for the winners. Voila! Named brushes created accountability and findability of one’s own brush. Winning created incentive to do better. It worked!
We convey life and job skills by setting high standards and telling real stories from our own work lives.
We tell them "do every job as if your name is on it,” no matter how menial the task because it’s a small world, and you will need referrals and recommendations. We give them real examples of how prior PortSide interns are now in jobs where they hire our more recent interns.
We tell them to ask for a new assignment once they’re done, rather than just waiting around.
We encourage them to ask questions so they can grow on the job.
We assess their work in a collaborative way to encourage interns to improve on their mistakes and not hide them. Instead of saying this is good or bad right off the bat, we ask “what do we see here” as we walk the job with them. We help them find faults and do it with humor and affirmation to cultivate the desire to engage in self-assessment and to make them feel like speaking up. We also invite them to inspect the work of supervisors to show that we’ll admit our mistakes and to humanize The Boss figure.
We learn too. A surprise this summer was that the garbage run (taking the garbage six blocks up the pier to the dumpster) was a popular task. Seems it was a voyage, an exploration, fun pushing a shopping cart and pulling dollies. This led to a new game, dolly races.
We have them practice management. Each week, one gets to be Lead Intern, the Project Manager, who conveys instructions from PortSide staff and makes sure the job site is cleaned up at the end of the day. That gives most interns their first experience being a supervisor. (The whole summer is often their first time working on a team.) This year, we introduced them to the app Teamwork to bring that experience into the digital era.
We have them write a blog at the end of the summer to give them the experience of thinking about their work and describing it, such as they will do in job interviews and when writing resumes.
Most interns have not been on a boat until our ship MARY A. WHALEN. We amplify this experience with multiple boat experiences:
We gave them a crash course in rowing on a rowing machine and then let them use our our rowboat and kayak. Handling a small boat for the first time is an exercise in self-mastery and an adventure.
We introduce them to sailing via a generous partnership with new One15 Brooklyn Marina and Sail Club.
In 2017, thanks to the NYC Ferry arriving next to us, we added an intermodal ferry, bike, fireboat harbor tour which was a hit. On one level, this was about NYC’s waterfront. At another level, it was about showing the interns how to question their environment and think about how it works.
We left PortSide on a NYC Ferry, explaining maritime infrastructure that we passed (tugs, barges, sewage tanker, ferries, dinner boats, containerport, the Brooklyn Bridge). We got on Citibikes and rode from Pier 11, Wall Street to Battery Park and through the Hudson River Park to Chelsea. En route, we explained the old firehouse on Pier A, aspects of pier design, the modern fireboat pier, other ships and boats we passed, and the maritime evacuation of lower Manhattan during 9/11. We then rode on the fireboat JOHN J. HARVEY, whose captain – thank you! -- let us pick the destination. We went to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and explained the graving dock where our MARY was repaired (that was interesting to other guests aboard), the wastewater treatment plant and more. We wrapped up by passing the Statue of Liberty at sunset while the fireboat shot a water display.
All this opens new horizons. Many interns discover that they love being on the waterfront and on boats, and they go on to look for ways to join boating programs in NYC.
Lastly, we provide a supportive environment for our interns when real life, off-site problems come up. Over the years, those have included situations such as an intern fleeing gang members by leaving town for several days, a family’s need for food stamps, and sexual harassment of one youth off-site.
If we do well by them, they do well by us. This summer, during the internship, a donor and friend of PortSide NewYork Ann Gaffney died, and the interns wrote a very supportive condolence card to our President. It is a testament to many good relationships.