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Work-based learning program a win-win

Feature story

Work-based learning student Gracie Bolson (left) talks with Spencer Sandquist, Performance Improvement, during a safety walkdown of one of Columbia Generating Station's cooling towers. Bolson is a junior at Chiawana High School . Her job duties as a WBL student at Energy Northwest include setting up meetings, helping with clerical work and going on walkdowns with industrial safety.

“The WBL program is a good opportunity to get work experience while also getting school credit," Bolson said. “I hope I can learn skills I can take with me after high school into my career."


​Marissa Ray, of Energy Northwest's Training department, knows first-hand the benefits of work-based learning (WBL) students. Not only is she a mentor for two students this year, she used to be one herself.

Ray accepted a full-time administrative assistant position at Energy Northwest last November, but her first interaction with EN was in 2011 as a student at Hanford High School in Richland.

Ray sought out a WBL internship with EN to satisfy her curiosity about what life out past Hanford High was like. 

“I was so excited to finally get to drive out here,” Ray remembered about her internship. Her time as a student worker gave her valuable experience and insight into the corporate world. Her tasks included data entry, organizing and filing, and working on microfiche.

“It showed me what an office job is like, how things are run, how meetings are conducted,” she said. “You’re soaking it all in. After that experience, I knew that I wanted a career out here.”

Now as a mentor, she gets the chance to introduce other high schoolers to careers in clean energy. 

“You get to help them advance in their personal skills and their professional skills,” Ray said. “There’s a benefit for the student and definitely for the department as well.”

​Long-term partnership

For the 2021-2022 school year, nine work-based learning students from high schools across the Tri-Cities are working at EN. The high school juniors and seniors work 10-16 hours per week and their job is part of their school day. Work-based learning students have been part of the EN workforce for at least 15 years.

This year, three students are from Delta High School in Pasco. Delta has partnered with EN since 2013, according to work-based learning coordinator​ Juli Troxel.

“This is a vital collaboration for our internship program and we value the opportunities provided by Energy Northwest greatly," Troxel said. “Students receive such valuable job readiness skills, especially in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. They receive exposure to great careers and building social capital with the mentors and other Energy Northwest staff they work with."

There are many benefits to having WBL students for the student, the department and the agency.

“Companies with diverse workforces like Energy Northwest become stronger and more competitive than other companies because their teams are made up of individuals who bring a range of perspectives and innovative ideas that can help them keep pace with a rapidly evolving marketplace,” said Mark Sullivan, Performance Improvement. “Work-based learning programs can help cultivate diversity in the talent pipeline by providing the structure, support and training that people of many different backgrounds need to succeed.”

Senior Ryleigh McWilliams from Delta is working in Occupational Health this year. She hopes to eventually study medicine or library science and has already learned a lot during her time at EN.

“I'm working on asking as many questions as needed to ensure confidence in my work," McWilliams said. “As for tasks, I've started learning how to efficiently communicate with others and meet everyone's needs, pay bills and invoices, do routine medical inventory – there's just been so much to learn! It's been an amazing experience."



Carlley Eissens is a senior at Southridge High School. She is working as a WBL student in Regulatory Affairs. "I’ve only ever heard good things about the program from family and friends. I was interested in getting this work experience to help me discover if this is a career I’d be interested in," she said. 

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Brooke Aranda, a senior at Chiawana High School, is a WBL student in Design Engineering. 

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