(pictured above: John Davenport Jr. (second from left) poses with interns Darian Thompson, Lazar Trifunovic and Sam Starks.)
John Davenport Jr. is determined to pay it forward.
“Everyone is not going to have parents who are connected to the system. I am one of those kids, and it wasn’t until someone said I should do an internship with the Department of Transportation that I thought about it. I applied, got a job and that changed my life,” Davenport said. “What is important to me is that I don’t want these students to wait and go to college before they get that connection.”
For several summers, the school board member has opened the doors to his engineering firm, Davenport Transportation Consulting, to students who are interested in careers in engineering and technology. The paid internships last for six to eight weeks and are open to high school and college students.
Davenport opened his engineering, design and consulting firm 13 years ago. It is based in the historic Chatham Building at 305 W. Fourth St. but has branches in five locations throughout North Carolina and Virginia. The firm’s work is wide-ranging and includes developing and designing roads and parking lots and conducting traffic studies. Interns participate in meetings and perform data collecting for projects. Davenport said the experience has been eye-opening for many students.
“A lot of the people we have coming through our doors are first-generation students that have never been in a professional environment,” Davenport said. “They do not necessarily know what it is like to wear suits and ties … Just the experience, whether they decide to go into engineering or not, exposes them to something that they probably haven’t seen.”
This summer, three students are interning at Davenport’s firm.
Sam Starks, a student at Atkins High School, has the makings of a future engineer. His father died when he was much younger. He then turned to drawing designs of bird’s-eye views of highways, capturing images he saw with his dad.
“We started going on road trips, and I started reading maps. What made me start drawing were the things that I saw on the road at the time,” Starks said. “I wouldn’t mind doing civil engineering because the designs interest me.”
Lazar Trifunovic,17, has engineering in his blood; his father is an engineer.
At Davenport’s firm, the rising Atkins High senior has performed a wide range of tasks, including video counts and live counts, where he keeps track of the number (and sometimes the makes and models) of cars that travel along a particular roadway in a specified period of time.
“It has been a cool experience,” he said. “Coming here in a business environment has exposed me to a different type of engineering that I haven’t really gotten a chance to see before … I want to experience everything in engineering so that I have a firm grasp on what each aspect is before going to college.”
Darian Thompson,17, a rising senior at Parkland High, is eyeing electrical or computer engineering as a career, so the work he is doing at Davenport is not exactly on par.
“It is still good that I get a chance to know the importance of what they are doing here,” he said. “It has also showed me about perseverance. Even if you are working at a place that may not be where you want to be, it can open doors with the field experience.”
Davenport, a Republican, was appointed to the School Board in 2011 to complete the term of Geneva Brown, a Democrat who stepped down because of health reasons and had given Davenport her endorsement. He is running this November for a full four-year term of his own, but not in the heavily Democratic District 1 that he currently represents; Davenport, the current vice chair of the School Board, is running in the At-Large race.
If he is victorious, the School Board would have three black members, as District 1 Democrats Vic Johnson and Deanna Taylor are already shoo-ins. Davenport could also chair the board; current chairperson Jane D. Goins did not seek reelection.