Internship Provides Mentorship, Customer Service Experience for Step Forward Students

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Gaining focused, on-the-job training and familiarity with every corner of the campus, interns in the Gateway Community College mailroom get an inside look at what goes into keeping classrooms and offices fully stocked. 

Michael Martone oversees the GCC mailroom and works closely with the interns, who are part of GCC’s Step Forward Program, a transition program for young adults with mild cognitive disabilities.  Martone has worked with about 20 interns in the last seven years to develop job skills that will benefit them long after they leave GCC.

The Step Forward program started at GCC in 2004.  A two-tiered program, it prepares students for the workforce by providing vocational, social, and academic skills.  Students receive classroom instruction, develop interpersonal communication skills, and gain community or campus-based work experience. 

Over the years, Step Forward students have interned at Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Elim Park in Cheshire, and Ashlar Village in Wallingford along with areas on campus, including the Early Learning Center, library, GREAT Center, science labs, Education Technology, and Information Technology.  Step Forward Director Jaime French said that she is grateful for all the internship sites throughout the campus.

When students apply to the program, they can include their preferences in an internship and this, along with prior vocational experience, is considered when locating a match for a student.  Year after year, the GCC mailroom is a preference with students and French noted that Martone’s dedication seems to be a factor.

“Mike is a true champion of our program.  He loves making a difference with our students and the students love him,” she said.

The internships are a critical component of the Step Forward experience, offering opportunities for students to practice what they learn in class, problem solve, and create a work history.  French said that Martone’s work is invaluable for students who need mentorship.  While interning, students who work in the GCC mailroom develop organizational skills and customer service experience, in addition to learning about the office equipment and the inventory control system for general office supplies used throughout the College.

“Mike is a great role model and is very adept at giving our students clear and straightforward feedback,” French said.  “The internship gives students who struggle with social skills the opportunity to interact with a variety of different people.  The duties require students to move about the campus, which is very helpful for students who rely on activity and movement to alleviate stress and anxiety.  The internship also helps students integrate into the college community.”

This year, students Joe Branch of West Haven, Ian Cheung of North Haven, Victoria Chilly of Derby,  Myles Lawrence of Bridgeport, and Dan Saranich of Shelton interned while former intern Nico Giano of North Haven served as a job coach.  In addition to working in the GCC mailroom, Nico was hired by the United States Postal Service as a seasonal worker last year and enrolled in English, psychology and math courses at GCC this past spring. 

Victoria said that she has found the work helpful in getting more familiar with all the areas of GCC. 

“It lets me get a map of this place,” Victoria said.

Ian said that he also enjoys moving throughout the College while delivering packages.

“I never know who I’ll meet,” he said.

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