Lila Renke did her mentorship with Dr. Diana Koelliker, emergency room medical director at the Telluride Medical Center. (Photo courtesy of Telluride High School)

When Sundra Hines was in college and interned with an architect, she thought to herself, “I’m going to do this someday. I’m going to mentor a student.”

Now a well-known Ridgway architect, Hines has mentored college and high school students, teaching them not only the artistic side, but also the business side of architectural and interior design and planning. Her current intern is Willow Krois, a senior enrolled in Ridgway High School’s Career Exploration Internship elective.

“Willow’s mother is very artistic (and has studied architecture) and her father is an electrician, so she’s already aware of the business,” said Hines, whose work includes single- and multi-family residences and commercial buildings. “I graduated with a master’s in architecture, but I really didn’t know how to run a business. You’ve got to have that left-brain-right-brain combination.

“I feel like architecture school to the working world of architects, there’s a disconnect. I’ve had a lot of women mentors in architecture, and I think it’s important, especially for women, to mentor with women architects, because there are not as many of us in school,” she explained. “It’s just good for architects as a practice to have interns that understand that it’s not all art and theory, because it’s not. Later it becomes about money and how much things cost. ‘Can you design this for this amount?’”

Hines Designs has two employees who help design and draft. Krois started out filing and doing supervised office work, but grew into a variety of independent responsibilities from taking measurements for projects to helping pick out and order samples and supplies.

“I’m teaching her several things but she is also teaching me things. She’s very organized and that’s really helpful. She suggests and sets up computerized solutions to help keep me organized,” said Hines, adding that Willow has a natural talent for design.

The architect wants her own daughter to do an internship when she is in high school, too, because the experience can help her understand whether a certain career is her life passion before she commits to a major in college. That’s identified as “career awareness” in Colorado’s education standards.

State standards require that public schools teach students in 11 skill areas, including math, arts, social studies and physical education, as well as so-called essential skills. Among the essential skills are personal, entrepreneurial, civic/interpersonal and professional skills. Career awareness is considered a professional skill, along with task/time management, information literacy, use of information/communications technologies, self-advocacy and leadership.

In Ridgway, the school has developed semester-long internships as one way to teach the skills. Nine students are participating this semester. In Telluride, 18 students are in the high school’s mentorship elective this semester.

Both schools offer the electives mainly to juniors and seniors who have more flexibility in their schedules and more maturity. In addition to about five hours a week with mentors at businesses that match their interests, the students are also required to do additional research and writing about the professions and produce a final presentation at the end of the semester. Many students continue the elective for a second or third semester, but are limited to four semesters total, which is two years.

The professions selected by students vary widely, from oral surgery to nonprofit management, computer education and physical therapy. Health care is popular, though it is not a profession where students are generally able to do much hands-on work. When students are not sure what to pick, they are told to narrow it down by eliminating the professions they are not interested in.

“I would expect our kids to be more interested in the resort industry, culinary arts and the hospitality industry in this town, and they really aren’t,” said Heather Rosen, career and technical education teacher, who has run the mentorship program at Telluride High for 13 of the 20 years of its existence.

“I’m not sure if students are not interested in those areas because that is what their parents do and they do not want to follow in their footsteps, but our kids want to learn the arts and more STEM stuff,” Rosen added.

Telluride completed a needs assessment last fall, where they surveyed the community and students to see what people wanted for career and technical training. While some people were interested in trades like woodworking and welding, requests for graphic design and theater were “huge.”

“We have worked hard to get kids training in fields where we don’t have classes,” Rosen said. “If they want skills based in carpentry, it’s hard to bring in a teacher for one period a day to teach wood shop. We’ve tried it on and off over the years, but now we have woodworking happening in theater class. And, a student can do something with the mentorship program. It’s a lot easier to connect with a community member to do it one on one.”

The mentorships are also a way for students to connect to the community outside school, widening their perspectives and opportunities, explained Telluride High School Counselor Alexander Jones.

“They develop these awesome relationships with community members in a professional area they are passionate about,” Jones said. At the end-of-the semester mentorship expos, “when you talk to students, they are so informed and enthusiastic. The mentors are often with them, and really celebrating with students.”

Tara Carter, youth curriculum manager at the Ah Haa School for the Arts, has mentored three students. Her first two students were mostly involved in helping with children’s classes and have since returned to volunteer with classes. The current student is learning about the administration side and training on the pottery wheel.

“Telluride can suffer sometimes from being so remote and small. The fact that Heather is making those connections for kids and professionals in the community is something I’m really proud to be a part of,” Carter said.

According to several small business owners and nonprofit staff interviewed for this article, not all of whom could be quoted, they not only appreciate having extra assistance from interns supporting their activities, but mentors are also rewarded by the opportunity to analyze and improve their own jobs as they train students.

“The more exposure I can give them to the joy in what we do, the more joy I have in my job,” Carter explained. “We think it’s beneficial to do everything we can to inspire young people, and let them know they can have meaningful careers in art. The common impression is that artists are jobless and struggle to make it work, but there are paid jobs. Even now I have work during the coronavirus pandemic.”

She agreed with the sentiment shared by many mentors and students that the most useful part of the students’ experience is the confidence they build at a time when they are preparing to start a career or college.

“The confidence built in a young person by showing them that they are really valued is priceless,” she professed.

Complementing the mentorships, Telluride has a program called Lunch with Professionals. During middle and high school lunch periods seven times a year, the students discuss career alternatives with panels that include people with diverse specializations in careers such as engineering, health care and law. Free pizza is funded by a grant.

Ridgway offers students similar opportunities through the advisory periods before lunch for high schoolers and after lunch for middle schoolers. This school year, advisories were planned for resume writing, job interviewing, a summer job, and volunteer fair and presentations by students in the internship elective.

With schools closed due to the pandemic and education being conducted online, except during spring break, extras like advisory periods and lunch programs may not be possible for the rest of the academic year. Most internships and mentorships have also halted, possibly only temporarily if mentors and students can find a way to modify their experiences under the restrictions of public health orders aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.

Students who have participated in previous internships as well as part-time jobs are fortunate to have developed strong career awareness along with time management, communication and other professional skills already. For them, the path into their future careers has become quite clear.

Ridgway senior Svea Wonneberger is interning at Ridgway Animal Hospital, plus she works part-time at two jobs: exercising and training horses, and assisting with video and website production on a YouTube channel. 

“My plans after high school are to take a gap year, where I will be going to Florida to be a working student for Olympic (equestrian event rider) Joe Meyer. As riding is my number one passion, I want to take a gap year to learn all I can and to compete in show jumping/eventing. Then I will attend college in the fall of 2021 at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs to get a bachelor’s degree in biology. After that I will apply for a college where I can go to vet school,” she declared. 

As for Krois, besides interning at Hines Design, she has worked at Provisions Café in Ridgway. This winter, she also started an ecommerce business, Carry On Reusables with her sister and mother.

“The whole purpose of me doing this internship was exploring the field and seeing if I liked it,” she said, adding that she began working with Hines in the middle of her junior year when “everybody is expecting you to figure out what you want to do when you get out of high school.”

Inspired by her first few months with the architect, Krois attended a month-long interior design program at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, last summer. She and her fellow summer associates were given the task of designing an office space at Mom and Pop Records in Manhattan; Krois’ design was selected for actual implementation.

“It was so fun. It kind of solidified my desire to go into architectural design,” she said.

She plans to major in architecture at the University of Oregon this fall, possibly minoring in interior design.

She concluded, “For me, the internship was so impactful. The first time Sundra asked my opinion about three different shades of tile, I said I like this one because I think it goes well with everything else. And, she really listened to my opinion, which is really cool because she’s so talented and accomplished. Working with Sundra really boosted my confidence in many ways.”