Monday, October 8, 2018

Internship program helps prepare students for engineering careers

By Beth Bousley

Every summer our agency welcomes college students into our internship program. They come from schools all over the country and are placed in our offices throughout the state where they gain experience in engineering, environmental and hydraulics, construction and traffic operations, among other things. It’s a fantastic opportunity for both the students to learn tangible skills and for our agency to help train future leaders.

Erik Allen, Brittany Quan, Luke Erickson and Stephanie Gady spent their summer based in our Spokane office. Here’s a look at what they did.
Left: Luke Erickson learned about surveying work as part of his internship. Right: Stephanie Gady and the rest of our Spokane-area summer interns found plenty to do and learn during their experience.

Erik Allen, Gonzaga University
Just about anything can happen in the field, Erik Allen learned. In school, he learned about design and planning, but one thing only experience can teach is how to think on your feet.

Well, experience, and coming face to face with a black bear.

Erik was off the road on State Route 21 near Republic in a ditch searching for a culvert entrance when a baby black bear decided to crawl out of the exact culvert he was searching for. Knowing momma bear wasn’t likely far behind, he made a beeline back to his truck. Despite his close encounter with a bear, Erik loved being outside on the job.

“I got to spend a lot of time on stretches of highway in beautiful settings, breathing fresh air,” he said.

Erik assisted with the inspection of projects like rumble strip additions, chip sealing, and sign placement. He learned how the safety, efficiency and success of a project depends on how well engineers and contractors work together. He recommends other students interested in engineering consider applying for an internship here.

“WSDOT’s employees served as great mentors and were willing to take the time to teach me anything I wanted to know,” he said. “This position has a lot of responsibility and will keep you busy for the summer. The people you meet and everything you learn will be well worth the effort it takes and makes you a better engineer.”

Brittany Quan, University of Washington
Real world experience showed Brittany Quan what she doesn’t want to do with her career, and pointed her in a new direction. After spending two of her three-month-long internship learning about reinforced steel, concrete and testing procedures in our materials lab, Brittany asked to move to a different department where she worked on designing hydraulic systems for highway drainage. That clinched it for her as she heads into her senior year.

“I’m adding design classes to my schedule and switching my focus from materials to design,” she said.

Brittany loved her time here. She said the people were easy to get along with and found the employees very willing to help the interns learn. In fact, she liked it so much she’s hoping to find a position with our agency during the school year. Oh, and she had some wardrobe advice for any future interns.

“Forget the fancy suits and dresses and grab your jeans and t-shirts,” she said. “It’s hot and dusty in the field. Oh, and learn AutoCAD(a 2-D and 3-D software used to create blueprints for structures like bridges, and highways). It comes in handy in the design office.”
Left: Erik Allen found himself face-to-face with a black bear during his internship. Center: Math was a big part of Stanford student Stephanie Gady's summer internship. Right: A summer internship made more clear to Brittany Quan what she does, and doesn't, want to do with her career.

Stephanie Gady, Stanford University
Stephanie Gady enjoyed being able to get hands-on experience in what might be her future career as a civil engineer. She said she was surprised at just how much time she got to spend in the field during her internship.

Stephanie spent part of her summer learning to be an ADA ramp inspector, making sure that ramps were safe for use by people of all abilities. She also learned that there’s a lot of math involved with construction.  She spent a lot of time working on a quantity calculations manual, which contains the formulas, mathematical vectors and conversion factors that are commonly used during the design and construction stages of a project.

“During my three-month internship, I was able to experience a much broader range of both in-office and field tasks than I had imagined,” Stephanie said.  “I can definitely see myself coming back to work for WSDOT a second year!”

Luke Erickson, Washington State University
As an intern this summer, Luke Erickson learned everything from how to use certain pieces of equipment, how to communicate better, how contractors do their jobs, and about material properties, earthwork and structures.  He spent time both in the office using drafting and design software, and in the field working on passing lanes, bridge deck repairs, and the new 10½- mile North Spokane Corridor running through downtown Spokane.

“There was hardly ever a dull moment,” he said.

The heat and the long hours came as a surprise (we warned him!) but said the experience showed him he has picked the right career. Luke plans to become a licensed civil engineer, and eventually design and inspect his own projects. He’s interested in structural, transportation, and water resources engineering.

“Stay open minded to trying new things,” he advises future interns. “Be prepared to think outside of the box, and most importantly, have fun with it!”

Our internship program offers many options for students. Many of our interns have gone on to careers with our agency and still others have moved on to work for cities, counties or construction companies. Most of our internships begin accepting applications in February so keep an eye out on our employment page!