"I do everything here, from sweeping out the hangar to working on aircraft fuel systems," he says as he wipes his hands on an oily rag. "Typically I come in here two or three days a week and work from 8:15 a.m. to 10:15 doing whatever Joe Soto, my foreman, wants me to do."
With a rueful grin T.J. concedes that his least-favorite work detail is putting a rotor back on a helicopter because, "You have to get this sort of mini crane to get the rotor off. It's definitely harder than hanging a picture straight!"
T.J. earns a lot of praise from Soto.
"He's great to have here. He's very sharp and when you talk to him, he listens. To me that's very important," he said.
Internship students come under the management of internship instructor Ines Estrada, who thoroughly prepares students to go into the "real work world."
"We start with the basics like learning to shake hands properly and maintain good eye contact. We teach them what is appropriate dress for an interview. Sometimes we have students who think the clothes they'd wear to a party are OK for an interview," the teacher says with a sigh and a smile.
"And the girls think I'm old-fashioned when I suggest they wear nylons," the educator says with a grin.
Students learn how to conduct themselves in the interview process by role-playing with fellow students. Then the big day comes when they start their internship.
"They are usually very nervous and perhaps just a little bit scared the first day on the job but the businesses and organizations they team up with are very good about introducing them slowly to the work," Estrada says.
At Pioneers Memorial Hospital in Brawley, 17-year-old senior Katie Dean can be seen moving efficiently around the emergency room at a constant pace.
"I'm here two or three days a week, depending on my school schedule, and I volunteer here on busy weekends and afternoons as well," Katie says over her shoulder as she speeds toward a cubicle with a drink of water for a waiting patient.
Katie has plans to study nursing at Imperial Valley College after she graduates from high school and says eventually she would like to be a flight nurse with a hospital flight team.
Her "boss," emergency department nurse manager Robyn Atadero, says the hospital welcomes the internship program as a way of encouraging young people to consider nursing as a career.
"There is a shortage in the nursing profession and if we can get interested people in here, we can show them how exciting a career this is," Atadero says, smiling as she hears Katie talk gently with a little girl waiting patiently with her grandmother for the doctor to come see her.
At the end of first semester students are required to do a written report on what they have learned on the job and illustrate this with either a poster board display or an actual hands-on demonstration in front of the class with tools they use on the job.
Not surprisingly, T.J. came to class bearing a large and greasy aircraft motor when it came to his turn.
Katie used a poster board with photos to document her internship at Pioneers.
"The business community really gets on board with this program," Estrada says, "and we're very grateful for all their support."
Students are placed in businesses as diverse as banks to screen printing companies. Perhaps surprisingly, one very popular internship site is at local elementary schools in Brawley.
"The teachers at those schools love having our students as they're a big help to them," Estrada says.
And who's the most "popular" internship student?
"That's easy," says Estrada, laughing. "Anthony Cardenas is because he works at the Brown Bag Cookie Co. here in Brawley and he always comes back to school with bags of cookies for the other internship students after he's been to work."
>>Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3443 or firstname.lastname@example.org