Company: Crown Castle
School: West Virginia University
Major: Civil Engineering
Internship Dates: 5/7/2018 — 8/3/2018
Briefly, tell us about yourself and why you chose to do an internship in construction.
My name is Jessica Francis and I am a senior civil engineering student with an emphasis on structural engineering at West Virginia University. I am a dedicated student at the top of my class and like to stay involved with many organizations on campus. This includes being a member of the WVU honors college, the Society of Women Engineers, and the American Society of Civil Engineers' concrete canoe team. As the Vice President of Chi Epsilon (the civil engineering honor society), I am responsible for a great deal of planning, including our community service activities and Fundamentals of Engineering Exam review sessions. Outside of engineering, I am a piccolo player for the Pride of West Virginia Marching Band, which is an intensive performance group that practices for about 16 hours each week. Though demanding, this organization had offered me many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, including hosting benefit concerts for flood victims, and performing in the 2016 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Originally, I chose to accept a construction engineering internship at Crown Castle after researching the company and discovering how dependent our daily lives are on the wireless infrastructure they provide. Without these resources, you could not place a call, search the internet, or use many of the applications that have become essential to have on cell phones. I wanted to take part in this rapidly expanding industry to learn more about the hidden infrastructure that makes daily life as we know it possible, and have a hand in providing the public with this essential service.
I am extremely grateful for my two internships with Crown Castle and the amazing opportunities that have come with them. The people I have worked with are genuinely excited to teach me about their jobs, and the culture at the company is outstanding. Employees are encouraged to be clear and collaborative to view a situation from all sides and fully understand the problem at hand in order to develop potential solutions. Crown’s high standards for integrity show how deeply they care about their customers – if Crown cannot provide the best option, they will inform the customer about alternatives that would be better for them. Additionally, every person takes ownership and pride in the projects they work on, which creates consistently high quality in the final products delivered to the customer. It is truly impressive how passionate each employee is about the company, and I hope that upon graduation, I can become a part of such a tightly-knit family.
What results did you achieve on the internship and how did you exceed the company’s expectations for your role?
A rewarding opportunity I had while working at Crown Castle was participating in their intern case competitions. In the 2017 challenge, my team designed a wireless infrastructure plan for an island that was seriously underdeveloped in terms of cellular and data coverage, while following a strict implementation timeline and navigating many difficulties in gaining public support. We had created brand-new types of concealed towers to blend in with the tropical atmosphere, which absolutely thrilled my manager, who encouraged us to apply for patents through the company. We had been awarded first place and recognized as the best interns in the company. After accepting my second internship with Crown in March, I was counting down the days until I could come up with more innovative solutions to the problem at hand with my new team.
This year’s challenge featured the world’s largest electronic commerce company moving into a developed region with existing, but limited and outdated wireless infrastructure. They also planned to implement a fully autonomous bus line that would require transferring massive amounts of data. In addition to the company’s communication needs, the completion of their headquarters was expected to bring 100,000 new residents to the area within the first 5 years due to the number of new jobs that will be available.
After teaching my teammates everything I knew from my previous internships, we identified the areas where we could use additional information and clarification to create a comprehensive plan. We spent long hours researching and meeting with specialists to learn about small cells, fiber, and the financial side of the business. We discussed ranges and capacities, how each asset functions in conjunction with the others to form a heterogenous network, and the high density required to support autonomous vehicles. Our managers were impressed that we not only gathered so much information alone, but also that we reached out to supervisors in other divisions of the company to gain detailed knowledge and expert opinions. Rather than the traditional light pole design, my team and I created a new line of disguised small cells that could be adapted to nearly any urban environment due to its highly customizable shroud. Small cells concealed as monuments or statues dedicated to people of historical prominence in the area could be used to educate residents and tourists alike about the founders of the city or an inventor who changed the world from that very town. Even nodes camouflaged as modern art disguises can be installed to spark the imagination in cities that are looking to be on the cutting edge of innovation.
I am extremely pleased with how my team’s report turned out and felt that it surpassed Crown’s expectations again. After our solution was submitted to be judged by industry professionals in multiple offices across the country, my team was confident in the work we had done. The evaluators commended us for our professional and engaging presentation, as well as the thoughtfulness with which we fielded their questions. At the awards ceremony, all of our hard work paid off when we were given a Towering Triumph Award for our outstanding presentation. This honor is given to employees who demonstrate exceptional and innovative work performance that exemplifies their culture.
What did you learn in this internship that will affect your life in a positive way?
In structural engineering, your ability to analyze a situation is essential. Overlooking a small detail could cause the collapse of the structure, which could potentially endanger lives. As engineers, it is our duty to ensure this never happens, which is why I am so thankful for the analysis skills I developed through the case competitions. Each year, the given challenge scenario had a tower with serious structural concerns. Both were older towers which were deteriorating and needed to be maintained frequently. They were no longer structurally sufficient to support any additional carrier equipment upgrades and needed significant modification work to remain standing. In 2018, the tower was adjacent to a residential area, meaning it was absolutely critical that this tower had sufficient strength to withstand the external loadings it was exposed to. Structural analysis showed that the tower was currently failing, and upon researching the history of the tower, an error was found in the previous company’s calculations. I needed to determine the most viable option of remediation, such as installing reinforcing elements to accommodate the higher loads or completely replacing the tower. There are many factors taken into consideration with these monumental decisions, such as age of the structure, rust and deterioration, as well as available funding. Additionally, if major future upgrades are planned, such as adding another level of appurtenances to accommodate more carrier equipment, it is more likely that the structure would be replaced. Ultimately, with the capacity at 148%, a failing foundation, high modification costs, and the anticipated expansion of the area, I decided to drop and swap the tower.
Communication towers are just one part of the infrastructure challenges our country is currently facing. According to the American Road and Transportation Builders’ Association, there are over 54,000 structurally deficient bridges in the United States. Over 4,000 of these are located in Pennsylvania, giving it the second most failing bridges in the nation, so the challenge of solving the infrastructure crisis hits very close to home. Using the critical analysis skills I developed from my internships, I will quickly be able to determine what work needs to be performed in these crucial situations and develop a suitable plan of action for remediating each situation. It will not be long before I can be assigned projects that are making a real difference in improving the infrastructure crisis. By making older infrastructure safe again, I will be able to achieve the greatest goal of my career - helping my neighbors. The structures I remediate will provide peace of mind to those around me and make a true impact in my local community.
How were you involved with safety and/or quality during your internship, and how did that change your perspective on construction?
Throughout my two internships at Crown Castle, I ensured that the general contractors were safely executing modification work on towers by performing hundreds of rigging plan audits. Each time a company works on a site, they must submit a proposal detailing exactly how they plan to make the required changes. I examined these documents to ensure that they complied with industry standards, such as having a properly-configured rigging system to verify the forces imposed on the tower were within an acceptable range. My audits directly reflect the performance of each general contractor, which informs Crown about the quality of work being implemented on their tower sites. Learning and understanding the standards specific to each industry is crucial to making improvements to the designs and construction methods used in the field. Following these guidelines will help me create plans with appropriate engineering safety controls, which protect workers and enhance the level of craftsmanship on-site. Recognizing common errors will allow me to go above and beyond the accepted best practices when drafting future blueprints to provide cutting edge methods and technologies that ensure my projects are completed seamlessly.
Through a series of dig-to-block inspections performed on guyed towers, it was discovered that the anchored steel was not completely protected from the elements. Towers in areas with highly acidic soils had steel with signs of corrosion within a few years of their replacement. Ensuring the guy anchors remain sound and with sufficient capacity is essential to keeping a guyed tower standing upright, as these are pin-connected to the foundation directly beneath the central structure; therefore, the guy anchors are the mechanism resisting wind and all other lateral forces. Additionally, these towers can easily be over 800 feet tall, so there is a very large fall radius and potential for damage. For the safety of everyone around the tower, it is of the utmost importance to keep these anchors intact.
To prevent this damage from occurring on the replaced anchor, Crown was beginning to install cathodic protection with each foundation. This is essentially connecting a more reactive material to steel through direct contact, which causes the electrons to react with and corrode the new metal instead of the steel. After a few years, the cathode would need replaced, which is a much simpler, cheaper, and safer process than removing the guy anchor. This summer, I determined the deadlines for when the protection would need to be inspected. I would receive dig-to-block inspection reports, which told me the date of installation or the most recent inspection. Based upon the pH and other soil conditions from that specific site, I would establish a deadline in Crown’s database for re-evaluation. By ensuring the guy anchors would be inspected well before the cathodic protection is exhausted, I had a direct hand in keeping our guyed towers firmly standing.
The thorough safety protocols in the construction industry continue to impress me. Protecting workers, whether from an improperly designed rigging plan, a tower collapse, or other preventable accident, is Crown Castle’s number one priory.
After reviewing www.ibuildamerica.com, tell us what I Build America means to you.
Currently, most people only speak about how construction inconveniences them. They have to take alternate travel routes to work and have an “eye sore” for a few months while a project is being developed. They do not appreciate the long hours of hard work that goes into creating the very same infrastructure they will use, travel across, or work inside of every day. I Build America is an initiative that is working to change the negative attitudes towards construction workers by showcasing the men and women who give their all to provide for their community. People can better appreciate this hard work when they have a face and a name to go along with the project. It would no longer be just another worker in a high-visibility vest and hard hat – it may be a friend on social media, or a member of the family down the street. Highlighting these individuals, as well the projects they work on and the companies they work for, truly celebrates our country’s ingenuity and potential.
Recognizing these professionals’ accomplishments helps to spread awareness about the growing and flourishing construction industry. Current students are the future of these businesses, and reading these intriguing stories helps them to consider a career in this often-overlooked field. Students interested in learning a trade could consider becoming a certified welder, while those who want to pursue an advanced degree could consider civil engineering with an emphasis in structural design or construction management. There are countless career paths that could lead to becoming involved in a construction-realted occupation. I Build America is spreading awareness about this rewarding industry to help those who are passionate about giving back to this country find a job they truly enjoy.
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