ABINGDON, Va. — Ever since Andrew Sullivan was old enough to hold a wrench in his hands, he’s had a knack for fixing things.

Now, the auto servicing student at Washington County Career and Technical Center said he’s grateful for the opportunity to learn more as an intern with Worldwide Equipment in Abingdon.

The senior is among four students who participated in the career and technical center’s first Internship Signing Day in a ceremony last week in the school auditorium. Students signed contracts formalizing their commitment as interns with hosting businesses this school year.

The paid internships will help prepare the students for life after high school.

The event highlighted the exemplary work of the students and recognized three local industries that are providing opportunities for students to continue their career and technical education through internships with their companies.

“It’s not unusual for us to have internships outside the school system,” said Brian Johnson, principal at the career and technical center, “but it is unusual to have this many students this early in the school year who are involved in internships.

“These students were chosen based on their commitment and skill levels,” said Johnson, who told the audience of SkillsUSA students the same opportunities are available to them.

“The signing event also brings more recognition to career and technical education,” said Johnson, who reported there are 600 Washington County students enrolled at the Abingdon school. He estimated that about 15 students participate in internships through the career and technical center each year.

“I think this is one of the best things we’ve ever done, forming partnerships with local industries and the education system,” said Brian Ratliff, superintendent of Washington County Public Schools.

“Potentially, agreements and opportunities like this will be life-changing for our career and technical students. This is the first time we have formalized the internships through a signing day. It makes it more official, and it opens the door for more opportunities.”

Other interns recognized during the ceremony are Dylan Triplett, a third-year auto body student, and Hunter Trent, a second-year auto body student, both of whom are completing internships at Abingdon Collision & Towing; and Kace Dingus, a second-year networking student, who will intern at Holston IT in Bristol, Tennessee.

Jessica Trent, who attended the event to support her son, Hunter, said she is glad he has the opportunity to receive a real-world work experience.

“I’m glad he has plans (for after graduation) and he gets to try it out before the real world hits him. He really likes this opportunity,” she said.

During the internship process, industries become the teachers, taking the classroom experience to a new level.

As an intern, Andrew will assist in truck repairs and setting up trucks for retail and delivery.

“We hope he stays with us and progresses to become a knowledgeable performing technician in our service department or the area he likes the best,” said Andrew Rowland, vice president division manager of Worldwide Equipment. Rowland said Andrew is the first intern from the school they have welcomed to their company.

Baron Yarber and Jimmy Walker, co-owners of Abingdon Collision & Towing, said four of their previous interns from the career and technical center became full-time employees after graduation.

“Kace has been a gem,” said Alison Meredith, co-owner of Holston IT, which offers information technology, consulting, computer support and network services for small business owners throughout the region.

One of Kace’s projects has been identifying criminal behavior through scams on the dark web, online networks hidden from normal search engines that are used by black markets, pornographers, hackers and others who want to hide their activity.

Mike Stewart, networking teacher at the center, said students like Kace are preparing to take their Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) exam in order to receive information technology certifications from Cisco Systems that will enable them to land the best jobs in the field.

Johnson said the evolution of career and technology education is making it a more viable option for today’s students, allowing young people the opportunities to enter the workplace after graduation or pursue higher education.

“In recent years, the Virginia graduation status has changed to focus more on job shadowing, internships and career and technical education. Today’s event is a way to recognize and celebrate career and technical education.

“I’d like to see our students not have to leave the region to pursue what they want to do,” Johnson said.

“Hopefully, the event will open eyes [and help us] recognize and celebrate what’s going on with career and technical education.”

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Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at news@washconews.com.

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