Student leaders revamp XLP to better serve

Kendall Davis | The Chronicle

With the growing necessity of real-world experience in the workforce, Mason’s Experiential Learning Program (XLP) gives students the chance to get their hands dirty.

The XLP has a new team of student leaders this year. The XLP exists to provide Mason students with career exploration tools and connect them to real-world opportunities. The opportunity board on the XLP’s website gives students access to internships, job shadowing, and discussions about specific job paths. 

With the new student team, there is a much more tailored experience for career-seeking students. Student leaders personally assist students through the process, from learning how to build a resume to attending an interview.

XLP advisor Joe Schroeder has been developing the student leadership concept since March 2023 and is now overseeing the reinvented program. He said that although the XLP has not been operating as long as other school initiatives such as Comet Savings and Loan, it has been running smoothly so far.

“[The student leadership team is] creating something new for future students, which is really important to them,” Schroeder said. “Our students created a startup; they’re creating a legacy of being the student team to start this.”

Senior Annabella Cortez is the Chief Marketing Officer for the XLP. She said the XLP used to be run solely by teacher Deanna Hogenkamp, but Schroeder took inspiration from other organizations to improve.

“Our advisor, Mr. Schroeder, came up with the idea of a student team,” Cortez said. “He based it on the Chronicle, the bank, and the Comet Zone; he thought that students could help make more internship opportunities, job shadows and open up our market.”

Senior Jacob Tartabini is the Chief Operations Officer for the XLP. He said the XLP helps students decide whether they are interested in a particular career field or if they want to choose a different path.

“We help students really narrow down what they want to go into,” Tartabini said. “We’ve seen incredible results from the students that have been a part of our program and gone through the experiences.”

Senior Anuj Kulkarni is currently using the XLP to apply for an engineering internship with GMi Companies. He said his student career advisor helped him prepare for the internship and guided him through the process of applying so that he would have the best chance of getting it.

“I came to [the XLP room] when I was free and I talked to one of the career advisors,” Kulkarni said. “They said to send my resume, I came back today, and they’re going to send it to the company now.”

Kulkarni said that having a career advisor really helps, especially for high school students who don’t have any professional career experience.

“Having a career advisor with me really helped me understand what I was getting into with the internship and refine my resume,” Kulkarni said. “And if I do get to the interview stage, [also] how to interview better.”

Senior Hamsa Tadpatri is the Business Industry Manager for the XLP. She is tasked with reaching out to companies to manage students’ applications. She said her job also involves reaching out to students who have an interest in specific internships. 

“After I reach out to [students], they come back to me with a resume and if I think it looks good, I will send it over to HR for that company specifically,” Tadpatri said. “If it doesn’t, I make sure that I meet with them and then we work on their resume.”

Tadpatri’s role also involves helping answer questions and offering guidance on interviewing with certain companies. She said she often advises students to “wear a business casual outfit and project well” when they go in for an interview. She said that making sure students are “in their best shape” is important in allowing both the company and the student to “put their best foot forward.”

Mason Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Cooper has been involved with the process of creating the XLP since the very beginning. He said that the district hopes to assist the roughly 90 percent of graduates who go on to college to determine what path they want to pursue. This is exemplified by a new district initiative called True North, which focuses on helping students find what direction they want to go in their future.

“Our whole goal with [the XLP] is to help students discover their True North and their direction,” Cooper said. “So when they walk out of Mason City Schools, they have confidence in their direction and can say, ‘Hey, this is really what I want to do, and this is why I’m going to college.’”

Cooper said the district wants to foster as many innovative learning opportunities for students as possible and the XLP is one of many ways to do that.

“We are on something that we call the Journey to 2030,” Cooper said. “We want to expand our offerings so that every single junior and senior by 2030 has the opportunity to pick and choose what experiences they would like to have in their career of interest.”

Cortez said she hopes to increase awareness so that more people can have career experiences to find what they truly want to pursue.

“My goal is to get more people on the opportunity board, get more kids to have career experiences, [get] more people to know who we are in general, and help kids find their passion because their future’s so important,” Cortez said.

In addition to helping students find their paths, Tartabini said that the XLP has also given its student leaders a chance to serve others and practice communication and leadership skills.

“You’re learning who these [applicants] are, learning their stories,” Tartabini said. “It’s very fulfilling when you help someone for a couple of weeks and they get the internship; it’s so rewarding.”