September 16, 2019

Now in its third year, DPR’s Build Up internship program brought 23 high-achieving, STEM-leaning high school students to the front lines of construction during the summer of 2019. Many of the students, who plan to be the first in their families to attend college, have never had the opportunity to be on a construction site.

Often, Build Up interns begin the summer with dreams of becoming architects or engineers and finish their internships with a new understanding of the many career options in construction.

With a growing labor shortage, there is a critical need to train the next generation of construction professionals, both in the trades and project admin roles. DPR hopes the Build Up program inspires the next steps in interns’ academic careers, as well as helps create the next generation of construction leaders.

“Everybody was very dedicated to teaching me. On the first day, they said, ‘We don’t want you to feel like you’re a high schooler—you are part of the team.’”

Olga Hernandez, Build Up Intern

A DPR Build Up intern on her job site
DPR's Build Up interns spend time on the front lines of construction, learning about the field while still in high school. Photo courtesy of Matt Pranzo

We also discussed the program and its goals with Diane Shelton, who leads DPR’s philanthropic efforts.

Why a program to target high school students, rather than just one for traditional college internships?

We want to capture student’s attention while they are still forming ideas about their educational paths. Construction Management is a wonderful career outlet for students interested in STEM areas but is rarely included in school curriculum and career events. There are lots of programs to inspire youth to pursue coding, gaming, design and engineering. We have a unique ability to share our love for technical construction, problem-solving, and collaboration. We can provide students with the first-hand experience of being part of a team that makes a building project come to life and affects a community for generations.

What’s your favorite success story of the program so far?

Well, we hope success plays out over the next four to five years, as graduates of the Build Up internship transition from college to career. In the meantime, we’ve already had more than one intern select their college major based on their summer experience and advice from mentors. More generally, it’s been fulfilling to see the interns’ confidence grow throughout their internships. At the start of the summer, Build Up interns are always a bit timid. By the end of the eight weeks, their confidence levels are off the charts. They walk their jobs, ask questions, speak up in meetings and often perform at the same level as the college interns.

What feedback do you get from professionals in the field working with these interns?

People can’t believe how mature and focused the students are as high school juniors and seniors. The interns’ inquisitiveness and enthusiasm for day-to-day activities on the project rubs off on the project team. More than one mentor has said that the experience of mentoring a high schooler reminded them of why they fell in love with construction and that it rekindled their fire for building.

What’s next for Build Up?

Our goal is to continually scale the program as much as makes sense, keeping the right balance between the number of qualified interns, suitable mentors and jobsites capable of providing a meaningful internship experience. The program focus and curriculum will evolve based on feedback from interns, mentors, and from nonprofit organizations we work with to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the students and our industry.