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Real-World Experience for La Follette Students at Acme Nerd Games

(From left to right:) Pat Acker, Jonas Riley, Mary Romolino, Steven Odjedele, Bo Monroe, and Steven’s mother at the La Follette High School Career Internship Banquet at Olbrich Gardens.

Acme Nerd Games, a vibrant part of Madison’s game development community, has recently made significant strides in supporting local high school students. Led by co-founders and husband-wife team, Bo Monroe and Mary Romolino, who is also Chair-Elect of the Madison Public Schools Foundation, the company offered two exciting internship opportunities to La Follette High School students. This initiative highlights the potential for collaboration between Madison’s public schools and local businesses to provide hands-on experience and skill development for the next generation of professionals.

From Introduction to Immersion

The partnership began in October 2023 when Melinda Heinritz, President of Madison Public Schools Foundation, facilitated an introduction between Mary and Pat Acker, a dedicated career internship teacher at La Follette High School. Pat specializes in guiding juniors and seniors through securing and thriving in internships aligned with their career interests and facilitating connections between companies and students. The introduction stemmed from a query about programming and game development opportunities, areas where Acme Nerd Games excels.

Pat Acker emphasizes the importance of these internships:

“Internship experiences are crucial for students as they provide real-world learning opportunities that go beyond the classroom. These experiences help students develop essential transferrable skills, build confidence, and explore potential career paths. Working with mentor organizations like Acme Nerd Games is incredibly rewarding. It allows us to connect our students with professionals who are passionate about what they do, fostering a supportive environment that encourages growth and innovation. These relationships are vital in helping our students prepare for their future careers and in bridging the gap between education and the professional world.”

The resulting internship spanned seven months, from November 2023 to May 2024, providing Jonas Riley and Steve Odjedele, the interns from La Follette, with a comprehensive understanding of the game development process and the opportunity to see their contributions make a tangible impact.

During this time, they immersed themselves in a real-world project, contributing to the development of “Rural Roads to Health Careers,” a game designed to engage and educate high school students about career paths in healthcare. Their responsibilities included playing the game to identify and replicate bugs, offering game design suggestions, and providing invaluable feedback. Mary Romolino noted, “They are our target audience for the game, so we greatly appreciated their perspective.” This hands-on experience enhanced their technical skills and provided critical insights into the game development industry. Jonas also received mentorship from Bo in Unity, a leading programming language in the video game industry, giving him a competitive edge as he prepares for college, particularly since La Follette offers a course on Unity.

An essential lesson both Jonas and Steve learned was the importance of communication and reliability in the workplace. Despite initial hiccups, such as needing reminders to attend meetings, they improved significantly over time, demonstrating their commitment to professional growth and fostering a productive work environment. Additionally, they earned academic credit for their participation, met the required hours, and expressed a desire to continue working with Acme Nerd Games.

Celebrating Internship Achievements

Jonas and Steve concluded their internship with the La Follette High School Career Internship Banquet at Olbrich Gardens, where they joined their classmates who had participated in various internships. The banquet, which was also attended by Mary, Bo, and other participating companies, showcased a diverse range of experiences: some students earned their CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) qualifications, others interned with the Madison Police and participated in ride-alongs, and several gained valuable experience at Walgreens pharmacies or in real estate with First Weber Realty. Additionally, one student is preparing to attend The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, while another is pursuing a career in fashion design. This variety underscores the program’s ability to cater to different interests and career aspirations, providing valuable experiences beyond the traditional classroom setting.

Reflections on a Transformative Partnership

Collaborating with La Follette High School and Pat Acker was a smooth and rewarding experience for Mary Romolino and her team. The internship program brought fresh ideas and energy to Acme Nerd Games while providing valuable benefits to the students. Reflecting on its success, Mary is committed to continuing this partnership.

The collaboration between Acme Nerd Games and La Follette High School highlights the powerful impact of community engagement and hands-on learning. By providing meaningful internship opportunities, businesses like Acme Nerd Games play a crucial role in preparing students for future success in their chosen careers.

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