What really is iQuest?

Internship class helps students get real-world work experiences


Anvi Kataria

iQuest adviser Michelle Turner talks to some of the students in her unique class, which meets only once a week. The class focuses on finding internships for the students.

Sitting in class for hours each day can feel like a waste of time for some students, especially those who know what field they want to pursue as a career.
Thankfully, Cal High offers a solution to this problem: the iQuest program.
iQuest is a class that provides seniors an opportunity to gain real work experience in their field of interest. The class helps students find and apply for internships that they attend in lieu of one period of a traditional class.
“It’s actually useful life experience,” senior Julia Rocha said.
The class meets once a week, on either Tuesdays or Wednesdays, during the allocated period. This opens up free time in students’ schedules to work at their internships, pursue their interests, or spend time on hobbies.
In the classroom, iQuest students learn so-called “soft skills.” These are interpersonal professional skills that aren’t taught in many other classes.
“Every week, we have a different [lesson plan] that’s centered around building your future,” senior Austin Martin said.
Some of the curriculum centered around these skills includes building a professional resume, maintaining an online persona, working on a LinkedIn account, and preparing for various interviews.
“[iQuest] is very student-driven,” Shanna Gagnon, one of the school’s two iQuest advisers said. “I have plans for everything, but I’m also very flexible. So if [the students] all come in and say, ‘We’re really struggling with X, Y, and Z,’ I’m able to create some space in the curriculum to help meet that need.”
Eunice Oh, an iQuest alumna who graduated in 2022, found that her interests were still quite broad by the end of her senior year, but she knew that she had gained the knowledge and skills to be competitive in whichever specific career she chose.
Other iQuest alumni agree.
“I have students that are six years out of the program that will reach out and say, ‘Hey I just want to let you know that [iQuest] changed the trajectory of my life in the best of ways,’” Gagnon said.
Nick Harvey, another iQuest alumnus who graduated in 2022, said iQuest was incredibly valuable because of the mentors provided.
“Not just the iQuest teachers, but also people at your internship [are helpful],” Harvey said. “You learn a lot from all of them.”
The iQuest program is offered at all four high schools in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. Cal’s iQuest program is the largest program of the four, but because of the unique nature of the class, the capacity is limited.
Gagnon wishes all Cal seniors could take iQuest, but there are only three class sections available this year.
To select students, iQuest has a stringent application process which begins in February of students’ junior year. The process includes an informational meeting, an application, and an interview with the advisers and current iQuest students.
“It’s a little bit scary,” Rocha admits. “You sign up for the class and they interview you with a panel of students.”
Unlike most job interviews, the iQuest interviews don’t focus on just students’ already existing skills and prior experience.
“We’re looking for passion,” iQuest teacher Michelle Turner said.
Gagnon agrees that passion and commitment are the two most important qualities for applicants to possess. They said teachers can’t create students’ passions and interests. Students have to bring their own.
“How much you put into [iQuest] is how much you’re going to get back from the class,” Martin said. “If you put a lot of energy into finding a good internship and working toward your future, you can get a lot out of that class.”
Students’ passions can be as broad or as specific as they want. Some students may only know they want to do something relating to the medical field, while others have a particular job or internship in mind.
Either way, iQuest provides students with the resources to accomplish their goals.
“Anything you’re passionate about, we will help you find an internship or create an internship for you,” Turner promises.
Both teachers’ prior experience and connections in the professional world are key in transforming students’ interests into opportunities.
The flexible nature of the class also allows for students to branch out in terms of career interests, even if it is in the middle of the year. Students are free to change their placement and find a new internship provider if they feel like they need to.
“ There’s room for that adjustment throughout the course of the year,” Gagnon said.
Retired Cal teacher Cindy Bonagura created the iQuest program and introduced it to the district nearly two decades ago. 19 years later, the program has reached every high school in the district, and class sections keep growing.