Innovation leader drives fast start to internship program for high schoolers

April 2, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by the Minnehaha County and Lincoln County Economic Development Associations.

Travis Lape holds a unique role in the Harrisburg School District, and he’s using it to bring personalized learning to students.

Lape was named innovative programs director for the district in 2017, after spending several years helping integrate technology at the elementary and middle school level.

It was a new position and one he has run with in the past two years.

“The vision was really to help us build a cohesive environment for personalized learning from elementary through middle school and into high school,” he said.

That’s taken on a lot of forms, most recently at the high school level where Harrisburg is a pioneer in connecting students with internships.

The effort launched at the end of January and has taken off fast. Lape shared what’s making it work and how others can get involved.

Explain how you’ve gone about developing partnerships with business and industry that have led to opportunities for high school students.

We started by learning ourselves. A group of us from the school district, including leadership, visited Yankton, Wagner and Madison. Each does things a little different in their career and technical education world.

So we picked their brains and learned and took a little from each one but really connected with what they are doing in Yankton as far as business and industry partnerships. When we came back to Harrisburg, rather than going out and cold pitching it to businesses, we reached out to our chamber and started making connections through them as well as through our relationships at the school district level.

We also linked up with Nick Fosheim at the Lincoln County Economic Development Association, who had further ideas and connections for us. Basically, I spent the month of December meeting almost every day with businesses to find out what they needed and what made sense.

Our goal was to launch an internship program in January, and we achieved that. We now have 19 seniors working on internship programs and committing at least 10 hours each week to them. Going forward, we see the internship opportunities being available to juniors and seniors, with job-shadow opportunities for freshmen and sophomores.

What kind of variety of internships are being offered?

We’ve got an incredible variety. We have a student who just started with Muth Electric, one who wants to be a funeral service director who’s with George Boom, a student at Central Baptist Church, one at Schulte Subaru who’s changing oil and tires and wants to be a mechanic, a couple students at Showplace Wood Products, one at TSP working as an intern in structural engineering, a student at K&J Trucking in diesel mechanics, and a student doing art direction and marketing with Air Madness. We’re just finishing up one with Interstates in engineering, and we have another student interning with the city planning department in Sioux Falls.

We also have a group of kids who go to Sanford Health and do a program with them that they’re trying out with us to see if it can scale. One day a week they tour the whole medical industry, from doctors and nurses down to marketing and nonpatient care roles, and the other day they’re assigned to a department where they’re in charge of a project for the department, so they’re getting to see the whole industry but also focus on a department.

Can you take on more employers? Are you looking for any particular industry?

Yes, we need more employers because we’re expecting tons more kids. Right now, we have 19 interns out, and our numbers for next year already look like they will be around 40. We’re also adding the new home builders academy in Harrisburg, and we have 70 kids who want to take the house construction class. That’s going to turn into internships as well; we just don’t know if it will be construction or plumbing or drywall or mechanical, but we need partnerships across the board.

I would say about half of our students so far are also being paid for their internship, which is a great element of the relationship. This allows them to commit to the business and often not have to take on another hour job that might not connect them as much to a future career.

I’m willing to go to any business interested in thinking differently to explore how we might work together.

What’s the reaction from students and businesses now that the program is going?

Everyone has been very positive. I’m putting together a survey to get additional feedback from business partners. We have an intern supervisor whose goal is to go out and see the interns three times and check in with them and with the business to make sure the business is comfortable. So we’ve tried to make sure we’re constantly supporting them.


What advice do you have to other educators or school districts considering a similar approach?

I’ve helped Dell Rapids a little bit already, and basically what I tell people is this is not my brainchild. Yankton had it figured out. I was able to take a really good model and make it work for us, and I’m willing to help anybody. This isn’t exclusive to Harrisburg. Other districts don’t have unique positions like mine, and if I can leverage my position to establish something like this, I can help other districts replicate it.

What’s the best way for people to reach you?

Email me at or give me a call and leave a voicemail at 605-743-2567, extension 3392.

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Innovation leader drives fast start to internship program for high schoolers

There’s a lot to learn from how this innovator is bringing education and business together in Harrisburg: Starting with how he launched almost 20 internships for high schoolers in a matter of months.

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