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Durango student internship coordinator rises to state education position

Leadership of the Business Education Connection set to change hands
Janae Hunderman is moving on from the Business Education Connection’s work-based learning coordinator role to an education-consulting position with the state. (Courtesy of Janae Hunderman)

Amid broader discussions about what the future of work looks like, a program put together in Durango high schools is shaping the conversation about the future of education.

In 2020, Janae Hunderman started the Business Education Connection, a program designed to help students discover their interests and develop their skills through internships and work-based learning opportunities. She had already been working with students on securing internships at Animas High School for about seven years and has been with the charter school for a decade.

The program is jointly funded by AHS and Durango School District 9-R and launched in July 2020. Hunderman, the BEC’s work-based learning coordinator, described the program as a one-person show.

But now, she is advancing her career to the state level. She started a new job as an education consultant for the Colorado Workforce Development Council and the Colorado Department of Education.

Still, the show must go on. Marie Kehm, former internship coordinator at Fort Lewis College, is stepping into the role that Hunderman is leaving behind.

“It’s a people’s role,” Hunderman said. “It’s being able to develop relationships, be a connector, be the type of person who sees a student’s personality and interests.”

Student Ben Wilson of Big Picture High School interned with Performance Automotive Repair in Durango during the 2020-21 school year. He was connected with the auto shop for an internship through the Business Education Connection, a joint internship and work-based learning program through Animas High School and Durango School District 9-R. (Courtesy of Business Education Connection)

Hunderman said the BEC also needs a visionary or a big thinker. She is excited to have laid the groundwork for Kehm to adopt the program and make it her own.

The BEC has facilitated 150 to 200 student internships within the community since it launched in 2020. Hunderman admitted that starting the program just as the COVID-19 pandemic had taken hold was odd timing, but the BEC is an innovative program and it is rewarding to see students in internship roles and learning that they have skills to develop.

“What it really comes down to is helping students see what their interests are and helping them find ways to explore those interests and strengthening those interests, as a way to figure out what they want to do after high school,” she said.

Hunderman (and soon, Kehm) spends a lot of her time in the BEC program collaborating with teachers at Durango High School, Big Picture High School and AHS. She’s also frequently visiting new businesses and gauging community interest in new student internships, which she’ll bring word of back to the teachers and students.

“The business education connection coordinator role is the first shared position between the three schools,” Hunderman said. “... It’s really unique to have the charter and the district to be sharing something like that.”

She said her new job is remote and travel-based, so she is not moving out of Durango and will still be around town. She said she will still be able to support the local schools since that’s the primary function of her new role anyway, just on a statewide level. She said a rising tide raises all ships, and she hopes to bring her new experiences and knowledge back to her community.

cburney@durangoherald.com

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