Blog post by Whitney Harmel
Whitney Harmel is the Vice President of Membership and Development at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. She has over a decade and a half of sales, leadership, and relationship-building experience and proudly serves on the board of two non-profit organizations in Maryland.
Last July was a month high school plumbing instructor Kibwe Shelton won’t soon forget.
As one of four Maryland high school Career and Technical Education (CTE) and STEAM instructors chosen to be part of the Maryland Chamber Foundation’s second Teacher Externship Program, Shelton, a plumbing teacher from Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School (Mervo) in Baltimore City, had what could be called a life-changing experience.
The Foundation’s Externship program is an immersive four-week experience, pairing talented area high school teachers of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and CTE with partners from some of the region’s most prominent businesses. Shelton was matched with a manager from Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE), a subsidiary of the Exelon Corporation and Maryland’s largest gas and electric utility. The experience helped Shelton to become familiar with natural gas fieldwork and the wide range of careers in the utility field.
Before he became an instructor, Shelton spent years installing commercial and industrial plumbing. However, after helping his wife open a driving school, he realized how much he liked working with young people. It then seemed natural to apply his plumbing experience to teaching it in a school setting. It turned out to be the perfect synthesis of his dual interests.
Shelton applied to Mervo, and the vocational school soon tasked Shelton to restart a program introducing high school students to plumbing techniques.
It was a year later when Shelton heard about the Maryland Chamber Foundation’s Teacher Externship Program. He immediately applied, earning a slot for the 2020 session. The externship program assigned Shelton to BGE.
Said Shelton, “When I started at BGE, I was surprised by how accessible senior management was. They rolled out the red carpet for me!” Shelton was matched with Tim Slater, a BGE Gas Operations manager, who was Shelton’s guide to the utility world; Slater offered him real-life experience in natural gas operations. Shelton was interested to learn about BGE’s many job categories – from construction, and computer-aided design, to engineering, and automotive technology — and was impressed with BGE’s emphasis on employee and public safety.
Shelton also saw the value of BGE’s daily briefing, where employees review each site to understand specific hazards. “I plan to implement daily briefings into my classrooms from now on,” said Shelton. “One student every day will be responsible. It will bring more consistency, higher standards, and encourage good habits among my students this year and in my future classrooms.”
“I am extremely grateful to BGE; it was an amazing experience. My students will benefit from what I’ve learned as well as from the strong business partnerships I have forged.”
– Kibwe Shelton
As many schools cut vocational and technical training, there is a shortage of skilled workers like Shelton, who related that 50% percent of his students now go directly from high school into the workforce rather than into a two or four-year college. That means a company like BGE can benefit from programs like the Maryland Chamber Foundation’s Teacher Externship that are coupling the needs of businesses with the needs of job-hunting young people.
To underline this new kind of partnership, BGE told Shelton they want to help him inspire his students beyond the externship program as well as continue their support of additional school training programs. Shelton saw this new partnership in action when Tim Slater toured his classroom set-up at Mervo High School one day in July so that he could see the school’s plumbing program firsthand. When Shelton mentioned a shortage of shovels, Slater suggested that BGE might be able to help supply them. Shelton admitted he was humbled by the idea of BGE helping with these items.
He also praised BGE’s 18-month training program which includes the CDL training course and CAST, the Construction, Allied Skills Test. Said Shelton, “I will start preparing my students for the test right away.”
As his externship drew to a close, Shelton looked back at his time at BGE saying. “I am extremely, extremely grateful to BGE. It was an amazing experience!” He was especially excited that everyone he spoke to at BGE was open to continuing the relationship, helping to set an example of what will be a deeper alliance between businesses and students. “The future has changed for me. I have made some great contacts at BGE and gained additional knowledge and resources that will help me, help my students. As soon as in-person teaching opens back up, I intend to take my students on a field trip to the White Marsh training facility so they can see first-hand what BGE is like, and talk to them about possible future career opportunities there. My life’s mission is to give back and to have an impact on Baltimore’s youth.”
To learn more about the Teacher Externship Program, please visit https://mdchamber.org/teacher-externships. For more information on sponsoring and hosting a teacher externship, contact Whitney Harmel at the Maryland Chamber Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-269-0642, ext. 1117.