Hard Hats and Spreadsheets–UP Internship Provided Real World Experience

Written by Mariam Okunubi, Union Pacific Summer Intern
During a trip to Fort Worth, summer intern Mariam Okunubi had a chance to see what it's like behind the controls of a ballast undercutter.

During a trip to Fort Worth, summer intern Mariam Okunubi had a chance to see what it's like behind the controls of a ballast undercutter.

I hadn’t considered a railroad career until meeting with Sandra Christen, Union Pacific senior manager-operations support, at my college’s career fair. I was captivated by the idea of getting to explore different places and getting a hands-on summer experience that included learning firsthand how America’s leading railroad company moves goods to people.

I was assigned to the Public Projects Team in Spring, Texas. My first week as an intern, I wrote down my perception of what Union Pacific does so I could track how that would change over the summer. All I knew was that Union Pacific is a Class I railroad that helps moves America’s goods. Over my time here I have learned that Union Pacific not only moves goods but is also committed to doing so in a timely and safe manner. They build relationships, protect their infrastructure and take care of their people.

Mariam Okunubi, UP Summer Intern

During my time with Public Projects, I had the opportunity to expand my network and improve my communication skills by attending events like the Mineta Transportation Institute Banquet, Public Projects meetings with American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and government agencies. At an event for International Level Crossing Awareness Day, I learned more about country-wide initiatives to combat trespassing and improve safety at railroad crossings.

I also gained a lot of on-site experience at project walkthroughs and diagnostics, which helped me better understand the project design process and learn how Union Pacific interacts with agencies when it comes to planning and construction.

During a trip to Fresno, California, to visit the High-Speed Rail Project under construction I saw how such a large, publicly funded project has brought so much change to the area, not only to Union Pacific’s Right of Way, but to roads, overpasses and underpasses being reconstructed to accommodate high-speed rail. With Union Pacific as a project stakeholder, I learned about closed crossings, construction of temporary track, and an Intrusion Protection Barrier that separates UP railroad track from the high-speed rail track.

I not only learned more about public projects, I also had the opportunity to learn from other groups. For example, I observed the Bridge Department conduct a bridge changeout, and the Track Department conduct a track panel and surface replacement. I also spent a day with the Benesch Team – a partner professional services firm — learning about day-to-day consulting duties they carry out for the Public Projects team.

I was challenged to think outside of the box to come up with solutions while working on a project that assesses an 8-year look at LEAN data, showing time trends of signal projects between UP and agencies. I made trend observations and recommended suggestions to improve UP’s project time to better meet their set time goals. I also worked on a cost analysis for at-grade crossing closures in the City of Houston by analyzing cost signal remedy ticket data, which was beneficial for providing financial incentives to justify closures.

Overall, my internship was better than I imagined. I gained meaningful work experience, enhanced my organizational and communication skills, made friends and mentors across different states and, more importantly, have had a summer of fun with the Public Projects team!

Mariam was just one of the 216 students who participated in Union Pacific’s internship program this year. For more information about opportunities for students at UP, check out the Students section of

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