“Our Time. Our Turn. Our Future”: The Role of Internships in Empowering Young People to Change the World

Interns Cover

Across the globe, a generation of young people is doing amazing things.

Lujain Alqattawi created “Sparkle,” an organization that offers online English lessons for children including those living in refugee camps. 

Alena Wicker, creator of “The Brown STEM Girl” website––offering advocacy and mentorship for girls of color in STEM––is both the youngest Black person to be accepted into medical school in the US and the youngest person ever to work as a NASA intern.  

Generation Unlimited, an organization “on a mission to skill the world’s 1.8 billion young people and connect them to opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship and social impact,” highlights additional examples of young people working hard to change the future like Zambezi Ark Technologies creating off-grid lighting using recycled products and Syria’s Techno Blind, whose team members created a smart cane for people with visual impairments called Project Echo.

The initiative and ingenuity of these young go-getters is an amazing sight to behold. But what’s especially exciting for Fresh is the connections we’re making with members of generation unlimited in the Seattle area, in addition to witnessing the impact they’re having in the engineering field within our labs.

Beyond the company’s name, the term ‘generation unlimited’ refers to the nearly two billion young individuals worldwide who are pursuing the knowledge and skills necessary to create a sustainable future and effect positive change for humanity. Understanding just how vital internships are to augment the rigorous education students are getting in institutions like Bellevue’s Big Picture School, Fresh has started working annually to provide a platform for students to acquire real-world skills, build interest, and find their passion. 

Let’s delve into the internship experiences of Emily Elien and Zion Nishikawa, two students at Big Picture and key contributors to our engineering and hardware practice area.

Emily Elien putting her engineering skills to work in the Fresh lab.

Emily Elien on dissecting robots & the importance of internships in preparing students for future careers

From immersing herself in all things STEM to working toward earning a CCNA certification during her junior year, it’s abundantly clear that Emily Elien is diligently pursuing her dream career in astrophysics and aerospace engineering with fervor. 

Her work at Fresh with Manufacturing Manager Fraser Midstokke––in which she’s ”learning how from the ground up”––has been a key component of the journey as well.

“In my first semester, I took apart Alvin,” Emily said in our recent conversation. Alvin is a demonstration robotic system developed at Fresh to test different sensors for autonomous control systems. “The focus was picking the robot apart to see how it works, then implementing things like its distribution board into other systems. That allowed me to take the knowledge I gained last year and apply to my work this semester.”

Emily deconstructs Alvin, a Fresh demonstration robotic system.

Emily highlighted some of the core areas of engineering she’s been immersed in at Fresh HQ, including CAD and printed materials, building end effectors with 3 digits, and programming those “fingers” using Java, Python, and C.

“I also worked with Elliot [Stryjak],” Emily added about her time shadowing one of our experienced fabrication technicians. “He taught me about TIG welding [tungsten inert gas] and other tools in the shop. Working on the robotics team at school, I was able to apply that direct industry knowledge to my work with other students.”

Emily in the Fresh shop using a TIG welder.

At Fresh, we’ve seen how impactful internships can be to the professional development of young engineers like Emily, not just as a means of learning new skills, but rather, of providing an open-ended environment for Emily and students like her to cultivate their interests.

For numerous students and young professionals through Fresh’s history, the internships we provide have served as a bridge between the academic and professional worlds. While classroom learning is without question essential, gaining hands-on experience and front-row insight into the day-to-day of an engineer, a developer, or a designer adds an element of practicality and rigor that would otherwise be difficult to gain.

It’s been amazing to watch Emily as she drives her own experience, applying her academic knowledge to real-world situations. The time she’s spent with Fraser, Elliot, and others on the engineering team has been a testament to her innate soft skills like teamwork, communication, and time management—essential competencies that employers across all sectors value highly, and distinguishing factors that set the leaders of generation unlimited apart from their peers.

Concluding the first part of our interview, I asked Emily what her dream career was. I wasn’t surprised in the slightest to learn that she’s shooting for the stars.

“Working at NASA JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory),” said Emily without a moment’s hesitation. “I want to build the astrophysical capabilities needed to send payloads to Mars, then build tools to analyze the data and improve the system.”

While I wasn’t surprised by it, I was floored by Emily’s gumption––her spirited initiative, her drive to make a difference, her grit in pursuing her goals and putting in the extra work to reach them.

From where I’m standing, I think it’s appropriate to say that Fresh is lucky to have Emily, and not the other way around. 

Zion Nishikawa, middle, hard at work as the Engineering Lead for his school’s robotics team.

Zion Nishikawa, a passionate builder at heart, uses his free time to proactively construct his future

“My dream career? As long as I’m building something to make a change, as long as I’m curing the world and healing the environment, I’ll be happy.”

Interviewing Zion Nishikawa, a sophomore at Big Picture School, illuminated another dimension of internships and their value––that is, their ability to foster interest and ignite passion in students. Zion had passion before, and in spades, but his time spent in the Fresh engineering department has been an exercise in cultivation. 

When I asked Zion what he’s been working on at Fresh with Malinda Eilien, Fresh’s Principal Technical Program Manager, he told me more about his work in the product development field––specifically, with medical devices.

“I’ve been conducting primary and competitor research to develop a verification kit for medical device cleaning. It has involved a lot of research, testing, and evaluation of different products to discover what would work best for the sanitization of medical devices, which is so vital.”

Zion’s daily engineering and product development internship schedule.

Having insight into Fresh’s expansion in the medical device field as a part of the marketing team, hearing about Zion’s work was particularly exciting for me. At the end of the day, no matter how many automations we create for clinical settings, hygiene and disease mitigation remain as important as ever.

With brilliant people Zion at the helm of medical device development, getting my next surgery––or trusting my loved ones in the hands of innovative practitioners––will involve substantially greater peace of mind.

Regarding the cultivation of his passion as a “builder” and “curer,” Zion’s internship has connected him with a highly experienced mentor who has worked in the field for years. Malinda Eilien has been on the forefront of creating durable medical equipment for reprocessing reusable plastic medical devices, for example, and has contributed compelling thought leadership at Fresh on optimizing medical device development by treating software development with as much rigor as hardware development. She also shared her expertise on “The Future of Healthcare” in a recent episode of our podcast.

An overview of Zion’s time at Fresh and the key milestones.

Zion is in good company and has an amazing opportunity via his internship with Fresh, but it’s his innate passion for engineering that has made the experience as enriching as it has been. 

“I love building and making things,” Zion reminded me toward the end of our conversation together. “I love engineering and robotics. And whether or not I pursue medical device product development, my time at Fresh has provided me with the opportunity to build and pursue my interest in STEM.”

On the efficacy of internships in leading to student success

Research and data consistently affirm the benefits of internships in leading to student success and positive educational outcomes. 

From the National Association of Colleges and Employers, regarding the value of making oneself a competitive job applicant

“Employers responding to NACE’s Job Outlook 2023 survey indicate that when considering two equally qualified candidates for a job opening, employers give the edge to the candidate who has internship experience. While employers rate internship experience with their organization as the most influential attribute, any internship experience in the industry is also a top deciding factor.” (sourced from Internship Experience the Top Differentiator in a Competitive Job Market)

From Investopedia, regarding the value of obtaining both real-world and classroom experience

“Obtaining a higher education only proves you can succeed in academia, not in a real-world job situation. Success in actual work tells prospective employers more about what you have to offer. Work experience can make you a good match for a particular job today, but without higher education, you may lack the skills that are important for advancement tomorrow. A degree can show that you have the specialized knowledge or technical skills that an employer is looking for and that can be transferred to the workplace with minimal on-the-job training.” (sourced from Education vs. Experience: Which One Gets the Job?)

From the Department of Education, regarding the value of building a strong professional network

“Internships are important because of the career connections and networking opportunities that start with such openings. Frequently, with the conclusion of a successful internship, students are offered their first full-time jobs with the same organization.” (sourced from The Potential Power of Internships and the Impact on Career Preparation)

Emily Elien––student of engineering and inventor at heart.

A Fresh perspective on the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration, diverse skill sets, and following one’s bliss

All of the aforementioned perspectives are relevant, as being professionally competitive, obtaining a diversity of knowledge, skills, and experiences, and building a professional network are all vital in the modern world.

But developing a passion for your craft with hands-on experience is equally vital. Whether that passion is STEM, architecture, urban farming, game development, software development, or radio broadcasting––all fields that Big Picture School students are completing internships in––Emily and Zion affirmed that internships are central to the school’s academic model.

At Fresh, we’re in full agreement that creating the bridge between the academic and professional worlds is essential. Industries thrive thanks to individuals who bring a diversity of skills to the office, and as an end-to-end innovation firm, we’ve seen the value of multidisciplinary collaboration firsthand. For every inventory management system created to optimize the operations of roadside convenience stores, there’s a podcast interview with an industry leader on the future of gas stations that goes deeper into challenges and solutions. To provide a more nuanced understanding of how we created a first-of-its-kind AI air hockey table, a behind-the-scenes video elaborating on our industrial design process was crucial. 

Collaboration spanning the traditional boundaries of disparate fields is vital to achieving truly transformative innovation, and in order to usher in the future of innovation, the world needs the whole of generation unlimited. But beyond just professional knowledge and skills, our conversation with Emily and Zion also highlighted the importance of “passion”––the underlying element that drives the young people to leverage “non-professional” capabilities and move the needle in unexpected ways.

“I’m a competitive dancer too,” Emily added. “I’ve toured with companies, spent time in studios, and attended dance conventions for jazz, tap, contemporary, modern dance, musical theater, and ballet.”

Spend a few minutes with Emily, and you’ll notice her gift of being able to quickly respond, adapt, and think on her feet. Speak to Zion, and you’ll notice his groundness and meditative disposition, exemplified by a snippet of our conversation where he tied his curiosity about robotics back to his deeply-held interest in building things with his hands:

“This past robotics season, I was the engineering lead for the team. That took up four days a week, from January through April. It was my life. But outside of school at home, I’m building things as well, whether doing woodworking, making jewelry, or something else.”

In addition to serving as his robotics team’s Engineering Lead, Zion also acted as the official mascot––another demonstration of his abundant creativity.

The improvisational elements of dance; the systematic creativity needed to craft ‘things’ from scratch––what became clearer than anything else in our interview with Emily and Zion is that rising stars of generation unlimited have individual passions that are directly connected to their professional aspirations. And passion is the common thread that connects the many things they do––and the many talents they have––together.

Whether Emily, Zion, and the other members of generation unlimited launch payloads to Mars or do something other than what they have planned currently, we’ll be waiting excitedly to witness the amazing things they accomplish in the coming years.

Our hope is that their time at Fresh has been enriching––a stepping stone that helps them along the way to creating a future that they define.

We’re committed to the continued development of a generation with unlimited potential

In the quest to equip generation unlimited with the tools necessary to enact change, internships hold a key place. By offering professional exposure, fostering passion, and supplementing academic knowledge, we believe internships play a fundamental role in the successful career trajectory of these young change-makers. 

We’re always thinking about how to provide that experience for young people in Seattle, Bellevue, and beyond, and as we strive to empower this generation to reach their potential, we look forward to working with others to champion the cause and provide meaningful experiences for young people as they forge their way into the future. 

A huge congratulations to Emily and Zion and best wishes as they continue their journeys!

Are you interested in exploring internship opportunities or learning more about the work we do? Let’s connect.


Ben Spencer

Content Strategist

Ben has a passion for blending design and writing into a cohesive product narrative. An advocate for research, strategy, and discovery at the front end of any project, Ben excels in high-level thinking about how to most effectively tell a brand’s story in an authentic and relevant way.

Ben received Bachelor’s degrees in Film Studies and Religion from Whitman College, as well as a Master’s in Education from Lipscomb University. He studied UX Design and Content Strategy at General Assembly before joining Fresh’s team in January 2016.

Outside of work, Ben enjoys reading voraciously, watching horror movies, playing video games, and building his skill as an aspiring novelist. He spends every second he can with his wife and his two beloved Boxer dogs, California and Tennessee.