I only had one internship myself, but it taught me many things and I am grateful for the experience. I was a geotechnical and concrete inspector at various construction sites across NJ and PA. I will try to list a few things that I found valuable. Many of them taught me the same things as those listed in Heidi's bullets above.
Being on-site all of the time really helped to show me how Civil Engineering is actually done. From seeing concrete poured, rebar set, trench footings dug, and to seeing steel frames being put in place, there is no substitute for seeing a structure built in real life. I think every student should get more opportunities to understand all of the moving parts that go on at a job site, and gain an appreciation for the level of attention to detail and communication that is required on all levels to see a job done right.
The communication part can really not be overstated. I learned through trial and error that there are more and less effective ways to communicate with my manager and with contractors on job sites. For example, if my boss called me and asked "how are things on the job site today?" I eventually learned to answer with some level of description about what I was seeing that day, instead of saying "oh, things are good here." Once I started elaborating on my observations, my boss was able to question me in more detail about some task or another that was being performed to make sure that it was being done correctly.
Overseeing soil compaction and asphalt compaction efforts, as well as making concrete cylinders for strength testing also helped me understand the purpose and reasons for the work in a much better way than simply reading about this processes in a lab manual or textbook. I recall that I once forgot we had a quiz in my foundations class, and by luck, it happened to be on all the topics that I covered during my internship.
Learning to read design drawings and understand where things on the plans were actually located on a job site was another valuable skill that I learned. Even though I now work in water resources, I was able to take this skill with me and apply it in future jobs.
My internship also showed me that although I was learning a lot and found many aspects of the work to be exciting and rewarding, I wanted to try something new after graduating school that aligned with other skills and interest of mine (in this case, water resources). However I will always appreciate what I gained in my internship.
Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
Sent: 05-23-2021 12:14 PM
From: Heidi Wallace
Subject: Your Most Valuable Internship Experience?
After writing a Member Voice with internship advice, I was curious to hear from you all about your internship experiences.
Are there any internship experiences you found to be particularly useful or insightful?
Did your internship have an impact on the direction of your career?
I interned for two summers and two winter breaks for the civil group at Wallace Engineering in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I started there fulltime after graduation and am now working for them part time while getting my Masters abroad. I learned too many valuable things to list them all, but here are a few that come to mind:
- If you enjoy the people around you, it makes the workday more enjoyable. Be proactive about genuinely investing in those around you. (There's a Thursdays@3 on this topic)
- There is an art to client interactions, and each client relationship is unique.
- When asking questions, make sure you know the "why" behind the answer so you don't have to ask each time that situation arises if the answer is still the same. For example, don't ask "What kind of pipe do I use for this waterline?" Instead ask "How do I determine what type of water piping to use in different situations?"
- As much as you try to plan, there is always a chance of surprises in the field. Be prepared to react to those surprises and manage expectations of the owner/developer/architect.
- No matter how great you think your design is, something will change that impacts it. Be prepared to do and then redo your designs without taking it personally.
Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE