For young people in White Swan, the future can sometimes seem as cold as snowcapped Mount Adams sitting on the horizon.
The town sits 20 miles off the highway, deep within the Yakama Indian Nation reservation. Because of rampant poverty in the region, the Mount Adams School District offers free lunches to all of its students. Teenagers say they’re thinking of working as loggers when they graduate from high school or maybe getting a job at the Cougar Den, the town’s only restaurant.
But the University of Washington is offering a brighter future to White Swan youth who take advantage of a program designed to steer more students from schools like White Swan High School into college.
Al Barela, program manager for IBM’s West Coast National Recruiting Organization, visited the White Swan High School campus on Wednesday looking for the next generation of engineers, marketers and managers. Barela joined the UW’s Alliance for Learning and Vision for Underrepresented Americans a year ago by putting a few students in internship programs around the country.
About 45 incoming University of Washington freshmen took part in last summer’s program, director Scott Mannix said Thursday. They worked at places like IBM, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Ford Motor Co., and Fluor Daniel Hanford Co.
In the program, the students are paid about $10 an hour for 40 hours a week over the 10-week program. Their workday includes intensive math classes for two hours a day to help them prepare for college.
Alliance staff members hope the internships will build bridges to jobs with the same employers for future internships as well as real jobs after college graduation.
On Wednesday, a team from IBM and UW explained the concept to a group that included some of White Swan’s most promising students and two from nearby Wapato. The news took some of the students by surprise.
“I grew up thinking I would work at Safeway or somewhere like that,” said Albert Bass, a 16-year-old junior from Harrah. “Now these people were telling me that they were interested in my mind. It was a little shocking.”
“You can’t settle for what people around here do,” said Jennifer Ramos, 17, of Wapato.