When she’s hundreds of feet above the ground while climbing a cell tower, Kelsey Olson ’07 always makes time to stop, check out the panoramic views and reflect on the unique experiences she’s had as an engineer.
Olson is a Denver-based division manager for Tower Engineering Professionals, a position that requires Olson—and the team of 12 engineers she oversees—to scale cell towers and evaluate their ability to support new 5G antennas.
“Not a lot of people get to do this,” said Olson. “People ask me, ‘Aren’t you scared or nervous?’ No, not at this point. It’s mainly just a feeling of gratitude that I get to do this for work.”
Olson’s team plays a vital role in the country’s transition to 5G, the next generation of wireless technology that has the potential to transform the way people and businesses communicate through improved speed, responsiveness and bandwidth.
Though they don’t install the new 5G antennas themselves, they do ensure that cell towers are structurally sound and maintained properly so they can hold upgraded antennas and withstand various external forces such as wind, ice and earthquakes. They also ensure the towers comply with Telecommunications Industry Association standards, as well as state and local building codes.
“Right now, it’s a lot of upgrades with the 5G push—basically, every cell carrier wants to be on the forefront of that technology and to be able to put that technology on all of their towers,” she said. “There are tons of towers across the U.S., so it’s a very extensive project.”
Olson’s team does much of this work at their desks, evaluating the tower and its foundation using structural analysis software, hand calculations, finite element analysis (FEA) software and computer-aided design tools. But first, they sometimes need to head out into the field and climb towers so that they can gather measurements, take pictures and make other notes to help with their analyses. That’s why one of the first interview questions Olson asks prospective new team members is: Are you afraid of heights?
Though climbing is a big perk of the job, Olson also loves the collaborative, problem-solving nature of her team and the company as a whole. She also finds fulfillment in helping advance the country’s network capabilities.
“It’s something we use every day—you go to a restaurant or go to the airport and everyone’s just on their phone,” she said. “So to see that up close and personal, the infrastructure that makes that possible, is fascinating. When people use their phones, they don’t really think about everything that goes into it. To say I’m helping with the U.S. infrastructure and making communication and technology possible is pretty cool. I’m only one person in that huge equation, but I feel like I’m doing my part.”