Thinking about a gap year between high school and college? Spending time honing your academic skills and self-discipline, plus exploring career options through an internship, can be beneficial. During his gap year, Missouri Military Academy Cadet Aaron Huynh completed a one-semester engineering internship with the Public Works Department of Mexico, Missouri. The experience was a win-win for Huynh and the Public Works Department, providing Huynh with valuable real-life lessons before college and providing Public Works with valuable personnel support.
Through working directly with engineers, Huynh learned how to survey land and inspect concrete; he had the opportunity to brainstorm ideas concerning housing development in the city; and he visited a wastewater plant, kit airplane facility and soybean factory.
MMA faculty member Vicki Briggs, who served as Huynh’s MMA faculty contact for his internship, says that when Huynh arrived at MMA in fall 2021 after graduating from high school at age 15, he was a “very, very bright student” in need of a challenge. Aware of Huynh’s interest in engineering, Briggs contacted the chief city engineer in Mexico and asked if Huynh could spend time at the Public Works Department. The engineer was on board and helped Briggs create a schedule for Huynh.
Mexico assistant city engineer Andrew Williford says the Public Works Department recognizes that real-world experience is a much-needed complement to education but had never conducted a semester-long internship before Huynh’s. However, Williford says that the department considers the internship, referred to as a “pilot project,” a “great success.”
“We are grateful to have such a hard-working, intelligent and professional intern over the last semester,” Williford says. “We are open to partnering with local schools for similar experiences in the future.”
Huynh says he pursued an internship with the Mexico Public Works Department because he wanted to experience multiple engineering fields and gain a stronger understanding of what engineers do, but he knew it could offer even more than that. “Aside from the skills and experience I was able to gain from this internship, it will also help me to more accurately pinpoint what I want to study in college and what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Huynh says.
According to a February 2021 article from job service Indeed, gaining industry experience has significant benefits regardless of current education level or desired career path. In the article, Indeed writes that an internship is “essential” to personal and professional development because it can present interns with new skills and opportunities they wouldn’t receive otherwise. For example, they can learn technical industry knowledge, how to interact with professionals in a workplace setting and essential soft skills such as time management, organization, adaptability, problem-solving and teamwork.
Williford agrees that good internships should show and open future opportunities for students, but he adds that internships can be mutually beneficial, and interns can really make a difference. “While we intend this experience to be helpful for the students, they actually provide significant assistance to the city,” he says. “The extra personnel can allow us to complete projects more quickly and even free up city staff to handle other matters.”
How a post-grad gap year can help after high school
Huynh completed his engineering internship during a gap year, defined by nonprofit membership community Gap Year Association as “a semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.”
According to the Gap Year Association, a gap year can provide clarity and purpose, improve earning and business potential, and enhance academic outcomes. The association says that studies have shown taking a gap year not only is tied to increased college GPAs but also higher job satisfaction.
Huynh was able to maximize his experience by participating in MMA’s gap-year program. The Academy offers a postgraduate gap year for recent high school graduates who want to refine their study skills, better prepare themselves for a successful college career and maximize their college acceptance opportunities. The program follows MMA’s structured military traditions while offering the opportunity to earn college credit.
Huynh says he plans to study mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University in fall 2022.
For MMA cadets in grades nine through 12 interested in pursuing internships, please speak with your academic advisor to discuss options. MMA cadets often participate in internships with MMA departments to learn valuable, real-world skills, such as information technology, broadcasting, photography and more.
Learn more about science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) education at MMA. MMA's strategic plan includes a specific focus on STEAM education to prepare our cadets for success in their post-high school education and future careers.