“We’ve had interns over the years, but traditionally you get one student. Instead, this model allows us to impact a larger number of students, focusing on a particular project as opposed to just bringing in a single intern, teaching them a little bit and giving them busy work. This approach is much more impactful.”

That’s how Carla Meritt, Director of Survey at MacKay Sposito, a Vancouver-based civil engineering and land surveying firm, described one of the many benefits of participating in the “flipped internship” program developed by ESD 112’s Career Connect Southwest, one of nine regional career connected learning networks under Career Connect Washington.

Based on a partnership between local businesses, Career Connect Southwest and schools, the program brings industry experts into classrooms to guide students through project-based learning (PBL) units to solve real industry problems.

“The thing I like about the flipped internship is that students get a variety of interactions with the different industry folks that are involved in a project,” noted Meritt. “In our case, students were able to see the complexity of a whole design project, including getting input from Clark Public Utilities on solar panel construction and the City of La Center, as the agency responsible for plan review.”

The team at MacKay Sposito worked with students in the Environmental Studies class at La Center High School to determine the best location for the installation of a green shed structure – one that would feature solar panels for electricity and water collection for a rain garden.

“Our role was to go out there and show students how we would do a traditional survey, using our equipment and letting them put their hands on it,” explained Tony Chenier, a Land Surveyor at MacKay Sposito. “Going hands-on and getting out there really gives you an understanding of what goes on behind the scenes.”

Rebecca Morris, who teaches the Environmental Studies class in La Center, said the whole experience for students was a rich one.

“We were in distance learning when the project started, and one of the nice things was we used Zoom to meet the specialists from MacKay Sposito. That alone was great because it allowed students to see Zoom used in a professional setting,” said Morris. “When we were on-site, not only did students learn about the different tools used on the job, but it got them to really see that there are many different roles beyond construction.”

Hanna Burleson, a science teacher at RA Long High School in Longview, said that the students in her CTE class enjoyed a similarly rich experience in their flipped internship with Gibbs & Olson, a Longview-based civil engineering firm.

“Because of COVID we needed to be able to do something different, and I wanted to do something where students would get a real-world problem and try to solve it,” she said.

After meeting with ESD 112’s Career Connect Southwest team and Gibbs & Olson President, Rich Gushman, a project for Burleson’s class was designed around a very real request from a Gibbs & Olson client to develop a piece of property in Woodland.

“We were looking at the kind of permits you need, the land itself, where the client wanted the building, how many trucks need to come in – all the things you need to look at to determine whether the project will actually work,” said Burleson.

Armed with that information, the students came up with their own solutions and presented them to Gibbs & Olson. After providing students with feedback on their ideas, the firm shared with the class what the real-world finished project looks like.

“The kids were like, ‘this is amazing, I would never think of that!’ Or, ‘that was a lot like my idea!’ So it was a really cool opportunity,” said Burelson.

Like students in La Center and Longview, the AP Environmental Science class at Hockinson High School was also given the opportunity to participate in a flipped internship. The class worked with Washougal-based Ecological Land Services, an environmental consulting firm, on a project involving salmon habitat restoration on the East Fork Lewis River.

“We talked to students about the different problems on that river that really impact salmon… there’s a lot of different factors that go into why our salmon populations are declining,” explained Beau Johnson, a biologist with the firm.

The class then took that information, created individual task force groups, and focused on proposals to reduce impacts to the habitat.

“The students did a really great job of looking at different issues including land clearing adjacent to streams, what the government could do, restoration plans – all different aspects,” said Johnson. “They were really into it and that was probably the coolest part for us, being able to see how seriously they took it.”

Dennis Dewitt, who teaches the AP Science class in Hockinson, said he was blown away at the level of deep learning that took place.

“When I say ‘deep learning,’ I mean the kind of learning that sticks with you for the rest of your life,” he said. “The level of dedication, engagement, collaboration and problem-solving was beyond what I’ve ever experienced in the classroom.”

While the flipped internship model has clear benefits when it comes to student learning, the positives for participating businesses are equally great.

“We have a huge shortage of students going into the land surveying profession, so this program is really workforce development,” said Meritt from MacKay Sposito. “There are a lot of good, working wage jobs available, but students don’t know about them.”

When asked about future participation in the program, both Meritt and Gushman agreed they would not only jump at the opportunity, but also encourage additional industry partners to become involved.

“Our colleagues throughout the state want to get in touch with schools who want to participate in programs like this, and they don’t know how to connect with the right individuals,” said Merritt. “I want to see this spread to some of the other companies that do the same things as us, or different things than us. Project-based learning is just a great idea and there are lots of ways it can be used.”

For more information on the flipped internship program, contact Vickei Hrdina, Executive Director of Career Connect Southwest at (360) 952-3427 or vickei.hrdina@esd112.org.