Company: John Madonna Construction
School: California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo
Major: Master of Business Administration | Construction Management
Internship Dates: 6/16/2018 — 9/19/2018
Briefly, tell us about yourself and why you chose to do an internship in construction.
This summer I had the privilege to once again work on the California coastal landslides as a dozer-excavator operator while pursuing my MBA at Cal Poly. Personally, this has been an opportunity of a lifetime that provided an incomparable internship experience. This summer we accomplished our goal of safely reopening the historic highway section to the public. Instead of working as a project or field engineer like many of my past internships, John Madonna Construction hired me as an operating engineer. Working 100 hours a week, away from home for month after month, was a challenging and unforgettable experience that I will never forget.
I am a second year Master of Business Administration student at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. I am earning a MBA to learn the language of business and better myself as a manager in the construction industry. I graduated from Cal Poly with a Bachelor of Science in Construction Management while also wrestling for our school’s Division 1 program.
Although I was born and raised on the California Central Coast, I have always lived a cowboy lifestyle. Almost every weekend, holiday, and summer growing up was spent working on construction sites with my father or on our ranch with my grandfather. At the time I often felt unlucky—it did not seem fair that I had to constantly work while my peers were enjoying their time off from school. However as I grew up, I began to realize how fortunate I was to have the opportunity that others did not, through my experiences, I learned many things; most importantly how to have an unrelenting work ethic. As I have grown up, I have applied these qualities to other aspects of my life including academically in the classroom and athletically on the wrestling mat. As an MBA student, I am determined to graduate among the top of my class this spring, as I succeeded in doing during my undergraduate studies.
Both sides of my family have been in heavy civil construction for over four generations. This strong influence that I grew up around affected my choices as a college student as well as my future endeavors. All three of my past summer internships have been with heavy civil companies that use HCSS on a daily basis: Papich Construction, Granite Construction, and Myers and Sons Construction. After graduating from MBA school, I inspire to become a project executive with a company I can grow with.
What results did you achieve on the internship and how did you exceed the company’s expectations for your role?
As an intern for John Madonna Construction on the Highway 1 landslide, I was assigned many exciting and difficult tasks. By my second day on the job they had me pushing dirt on one of the most technical and dangerous spots on the job. Despite my fears, I rose to the challenge and conquered the mountain in my own way.
The project had two major feats to accomplish our goal. The first portion was a major cut and fill operation that consisted of haul trucks scaling goat trails to be loaded by excavators. They winded their way down to the structural fill on the ocean where we were creating the new highway. The second operation was building a 2000-foot-long rock embankment along the ocean. Over 200,000 ton of rock was brought in to create the wall that went 60’ below sea level in some areas.
One of my most humbling moments of the job was running a large crew that was building the structural fill where the highway was soon to sit on a narrow area above the ocean edge. I managed and coordinated 11 haul trucks, an 815 compactor, and a grade setter all from the seat of the D8 with the help of walkie talkies. Those two months were filled with working dawn to dusk and many skipped lunches.
I was tasked in every operating position at some point throughout the job. I became very comfortable doing things that would a make a normal person faint. Along with operating, there were many points in the job where I was responsible for tracking quantities, collecting sub-contractor and supplier tickets, attending project update meetings, and running the weekly safety meetings.
The project was a time and materials emergency work contract with Caltrans. I am accustomed to hard bid projects, so this proved to be different in many ways. Instead of being on different teams than Caltrans (the owner), sub-contractors, inspectors, and suppliers, it felt like a partnership with a single goal—to get the highway open to the public as safely and quickly as possible. It was a reassuring feeling knowing that everyone looked out for one another and acted as a single unit even though we worked for different companies.
Working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week away from home took a major toll on both my physically and mental health. I remember one day I was struggling to do anything right and was messing random things up—anything that could go wrong did. I was on the verge of tears knowing I was having a difficult day and anticipated staying hours late when a few of the guys helped me at the end of the day so that we could all leave work at the same time. I couldn’t believe it and was so overwhelmed with the commodore. We all need help now and then and it was nice to know that I was a part of a family that lifted each other up when they are down.
I believe that I tremendously exceeded my company’s expectations of myself. Coming in I was just a guy they hired to see how I was at operating. Along with outstanding many, as a reliable worker, I shined as a safety ambassador and a problem solver. I went above and beyond my expected duties to ensure other did not get hurt and the project ran as efficiently as possible.
What did you learn in this internship that will affect your life in a positive way?
I would say communication is the most important thing I learned on this job. Excellent communication not only ensures that the job to do gets done right but also that it is executed safely—which was more important than ever on a landslide. I believe communication was one of the biggest project successes that helped this emergency project run smoothly. Most questions could be answered via walkie talkies while more personal and in-depth questions were talked about in person in what felt like a very open-minded environment. Various ideas were considered and collaboration was key. Our project structure seemed much more like that of Design-Build or Integrated Project Delivery.
Understanding the importance of communication on project success will make me a better manager when it is my time to run jobs. Communicating well fixes problems before they arise and helps develop an open-door kind of connection. Instead of people getting mad at one another, I hope to have most problems resolved in a collaborative way. Seeing it happen in real life on my project was an eye-opening experience that will make me a better manager and person overall.
I also learned a lot about how jobs can be effectively executed from the field. Seeing and actually being on the heavy equipment will make me a better project manager and estimator later on. I will be able to put together a project in my head and anticipate potential problems and solutions before any one is even on site. This can significantly save money and prevent potential injuries. For example, one day I noticed that the rock trucks were completely backed up and waiting to be loaded. I wondered to myself if there was a better way to so that trucks were not sitting. After watching a few cycles, I finally realized that the excavators were making over 180 degree turns to load. I talked to the superintendent and proposed that the dozers push dirt to the excavators in a way that they only turned 90 degrees. The result was a couple minutes decrease in cycle time and no haul trucks left waiting. Two minutes does not seem like much but it significantly adds up over a project.
How were you involved with safety and/or quality during your internship, and how did that change your perspective on construction?
My proudest accomplishment during my internship was working on a very dangerous mountain without a single project injury. The closest thing we even had to an injury was an inspector tripping into 3 feet of soft mud, which luckily made for a good chuckle with everyone. I was part of a team that knew one bad mistake could mean death. This realization helped us work smart and kept us on our toes.
Coming onto the project, I felt like I was thrown into a foreign world. As I pushed dirt along a slope, one side was a sheer cliff that dropped into the ocean while on the other was a mountain that spat rocks ranging in size from golf balls to pickup trucks above our dozers. This self-protection lead to ditching your load and high tailing it in third gear, along with a few broken windows.
I finally couldn’t take it any more—no job was worth any one’s life. I spoke to the superintendent and lead inspector and told them my problems with the working circumstance. It was hard to tell them because I felt like I was complaining but they quickly shot that down and explained how it took courage to have to guts to say something. This led to the job being shut down 4 days to come up with a plan. We now have a landslide monitoring system and full-time spotters that did nothing but watch the mountain above us to keep us safe. Additionally, everyone onsite was equipped with a walkie talkie to ensure safety. Having these implementations in place was a huge game changer that kept us safe.
Although I did not know how to make our job safer for us, I was proud to have spoken up for safety’s sake. As a take home, it really etches the importance of speaking up when something does not feel right. Who knows, maybe my speaking up saved someone’s life or even costs of equipment repair. Speaking up goes beyond safety and construction and applies to life. So many times have I seen something that does not look right but for fear of being wrong or humiliated, I stay quiet. I believe this is a vastly underappreciated quality that can truly make a difference in myself and those around me.
After reviewing www.ibuildamerica.com, tell us what I Build America means to you.
I see I Build America as the beating heart of our industry. It is something that reminds us to take pride in the work we do. It is the sweat beading from my brow on a hot day laying asphalt; it is the blood dripping from the cut on my arm onto wet concrete without knowing it; it is working late into the freezing night to replace the tracks on an excavator so that it is ready to go by sunrise. Feelings and tasks like these can be over looked if not reflected on. I Build America is a way to show your pride in the work we all do. We all know someone that swears at the sight of a lane closure to build a bridge or pave a road. Yet they could not comprehend or last a single day doing what we do. This thought goes without a single regard to the health and safety of men and women working hard to bring home bread for their families.
My favorite part about the I Build America movement is the proud feeling of accomplishment I am filled with after finishing a job—something that I put my sweat and blood into. It is my own way of leaving a mark on the community and some day when I’m driving down the road with my children I can tell them that “I built that building” or “I made that road.” For example, one summer in high school I was on an apartment building job. We were building the pads, installing the utilities, and doing the concrete work. There was a crashed schedule and I was forced to work long and strenuous days. It was a lot of exhausting work but by the end I was so proud to have been a part of the construction.
From the way I look at it, we are no different from police, fire fighters, and paramedics. We provide a safe environment for our fellow Americans. Whether it’s a safe road to travel down, a comfortable office to work in, or pipelines that provide fresh drinking water to our tap, our industry is the backbone of American health and safety.
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