High Schoolers Trade Backpacks for Briefcases

Celena Shepherd, Communications

October 13, 2022

The high school bell rings, and the students shuffle toward their next classroom. Until, finally, the last bell sounds and the students are free to pursue their after-school plans (and homework).

A typical day for most students is not typical for some senior students at Grand Island Senior High (GISH) in central Nebraska. Instead, these seniors have the opportunity during the day to trade backpacks for briefcases and gain real-world office experience. After working for a few hours in the office, students return to school to complete their remaining coursework.



This is all possible through the innovative GISH Career Academy, which encourages seniors to complete a semester-long internship to explore their career interests before graduation. Jeff Palik, Olsson’s Grand Island office leader, sits on the GISH Career Academy of Engineering and Technology advisory board, and he focuses on creating opportunities for students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). This year, Jeff introduced a new opportunity for high schoolers in the Career Academy: Olsson internships.

“We are thrilled to partner with the high school to help students gain experience in STEM-related careers through Olsson internships,” he said. “This is a great way to support young talent in our community and introduce them to different areas of engineering, surveying, and field operations before graduation.”

In the spring of 2022, we hired three interns to work on the Surveying, Civil Engineering, and Field Operations teams. The interns started this summer and now work part-time at Olsson while juggling the responsibilities of senior year and the college application process.

Surveying intern Aspen Poltack has already been accepted into her top college and plans to study engineering. She’s hopeful that the Olsson internship will set her apart during scholarship interviews.

“This internship has helped prepare me so much for life after graduation,” she said. “Getting to work in an engineering office in high school has been such a great experience. This opportunity gives me so much to talk about for scholarship applications and interviews.”



Aspen has wanted to be an engineer since third grade and feels confident that the Olsson internship will prepare her for what future jobs could entail. Aspen’s internship has included – to her happy surprise – her own desk, computer, and phone. Something else that’s become familiar to Aspen: the AutoCAD software she uses to make sheets or plot lots for surveying projects.

General civil intern Mason Messmer has enjoyed the challenge of learning new things, including engineering programs like Civil3D and Storm and Sanitary Analysis.

“My favorite part was being thrown into the deep end with different programs because it’s helped me grow and understand the most,” Mason said. “The office is a great space where I’m able to learn, make mistakes, and then I can go to my supervisor or the team I’m working with to ask questions and learn even more.”

Mason is eager to show his dedication to engineering in college applications by discussing this Olsson internship. In college, he plans to pursue more engineering internships because of the invaluable real-world experience he’s gained at Olsson.



Olsson is honored to support aspiring engineers and help them reach their dreams by partnering with the GISH Career Academy.

Michala Soundy is the Academy Experiences Liaison with Grand Island Public Schools and oversees the GISH internship program. Through continual communication with the interns and Olsson supervisors, she enjoys hearing about the internship program and sees firsthand the positive impact on students.

“It’s apparent that students are gaining valuable experience and knowledge while building lasting professional relationships,” she said. “Their internship will no doubt push them further ahead when they begin the next level of learning. Grand Island Senior High is grateful for the opportunities being provided to these students by interning at Olsson.”

Jeff said students have already expressed interest in staying on after the semester ends and that Olsson teams have been very impressed with the high school interns. With such a successful first year, he plans to continue the GISH Career Academy partnership into the future.