Company: Skanska Civil USA
School: Columbia University
Major: Civil Engineering with a Concentration in Construction Management
Internship Dates: 6/3/2019 — 4/24/2020
Tell us about yourself and why you chose to do an internship in construction.
I am currently a senior at Columbia University in New York City. I’m majoring in civil engineering with a concentration in construction management and a minor in architecture. For the past two summers, I interned with Skanska USA Civil. This year I worked on one of the largest projects in United States history: the redevelopment of Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport. This project is a 4-billion-dollar design build public private partnership. I work on the East Roadways team.
I always found construction to be fascinating. I, like many other young future engineers, loved to build with anything I could get my hands on: Legos, office supplies, clay, sticks, sand… anything. When I was in high school, the Tappan Zee Bridge was being rebuilt in my community. This mega project was absolutely incredible to witness and it inspired me to learn more about career opportunities in the construction industry. I was strong in math and science so my teachers and guidance counselors told me I should enroll in a summer engineering program at a local college. This program taught me about all the different fields of engineering and I fell in love with civil. I then joined an ACE mentorship program to continue exploring the industry.
I learned that the infrastructure in the United States is rapidly aging and society cannot function without persistent improvements in infrastructure to ensure stability and resilience. I want to take part in providing my community with the infrastructure it needs. I want to contribute to a built environment that co-exists with the natural environment in a resource-efficient relationship that protects biodiversity.
I realized that to sustain and foster the growing population, we need to not only rebuild but also rethink. Instead of viewing this problem as insurmountable, engineers embrace these dilemmas as opportunities to create sustainable mass living environments.
When I entered college, I knew the direction I wanted to go in and sought out an internship that would complement my studies and give me the opportunity to pursue my passion. At Skanska, I found just that. My team and I are working hard to build a brand-new airport that will provide thousands of people with a more efficient way to travel at LaGuardia. Our project is on track to achieve both LEED and Envision certification. To work toward these accomplishments, we recycled over 99% of all debris from the old parking garage, reused groundwater pumped from excavations to make light weight concrete, innovated a new baggage handling system, built solar water heaters, and implemented a rainwater harvesting system. I am proud to say that I play a role in this incredible project as I know that I am building for a better society.
What are some of your proudest achievements and how did you exceed the company’s expectations for your role?
As an intern, I understood that I had to first prove myself as a crucial asset to my team before I would be given major responsibility. I was motivated and I exhibited this by taking every opportunity I could to learn more. I came in every day with a positive attitude. I attended every meeting I was offered to attend, paid attention to detail, and asked meaningful questions. When I had input on a topic that I thought could be valuable to my superiors, I wasn’t afraid to voice it.
Soon, I began working closely with the field engineers. I assisted an engineer who managed all the bolting packages for our quality assurance division. He was happy to share his knowledge and teach me as much as I wanted to know. Soon, I was working on spans of bridges on my own!
After a few weeks, the engineer I was assisting left the job and my managers asked me if I could handle taking over a portion of the responsibility. I was eager to step up and assume this role. Over the next month, I took over more and more of the bolting responsibility. My managers were impressed by my organizational skills and keen eye for detail. The bolting packages that I submitted to our designer came back with fewer comments than ever before! I also broke a record for the East Roadways and submitted a bolting package just days after the steel erection finished.
Before I knew it, I was given full responsibility all of bolting in the East Roadways along with continuing my other responsibilities. When the summer began to come to an end, my managers asked me if I would consider continuing my internship throughout my school year. I felt honored to be given such an opportunity and I accepted!
The workload for bolting will soon dwindle down as most of our bridges are erected. I will then take on as-built drawings as my main responsibility. I never expected to be managing anything as an intern, especially not on a job as monumental as this one, but I know that hard work can take you anywhere and I am proud to be a key asset to my company.
How were you involved with safety during your internship, and how did it change your perspective of construction?
At Skanska, we work safely, or not at all. This policy is consistent with our “Care for Life” values. Every single person that interacts with our project should come home exactly the way they came in. We aren’t just focused on eliminating fatalities, we strive for an “Injury Free Environment”.
Here, we don’t just talk about it- safety permeates all that we do. The morning meeting always begins with a safety moment. We talk openly and transparently about safety incidents across the company so that we can do better. Each crew conducts a daily hazard analysis before starting work. They review potential hazards and to go over the construction work plan. Accidents are preventable- that’s why we work in a “Plan Do Check Act” sequence.
We also come together each morning to do “Stretch and Flex”. This tradition helps prevent soft tissue injuries and also builds bonds between the management, engineers, and trades. Throughout the day, team members go on safety walks to ensure that any potential hazards are addressed and the site is safe.
Skanska fosters an environment where every person on site, regardless of title or position, has the right and the responsibility to stop unsafe work. At first, I thought, “What do I know? I’m just and intern and some of these workers have been doing this their whole lives.” Then I heard a speech given by Richard Kennedy, the President and CEO of Skanska USA. He spoke about having those same feelings when he first started at Skanska but he was deeply affected by the news of our first fatality on a job site since coming into his position. He was devastated and decided that we all need to do better. We all need to be leaders. Speaking up can save a life.
After being on the job site for some time I realized that everybody understands this. I can say with confidence that I if I saw somebody in danger, I would speak up immediately because I truly care about the safety of my team. I used to think that construction was a dangerous industry, but my perspective has changed and I no longer believe that danger needs to be a part of the job. I am grateful to work for a company whose values align with my own.
Every single person on a Skanska job site can tell you why they work safely and what safety means to them. I work safe because I want to come home to my family the same way I went into work. I work safe because I never want to endanger any person who interacts with my job site. I work safe because one day, I want to be a leader in the construction industry.
How did you utilize technology or innovative practices at your internship?
Technology is reshaping the construction industry. We are now able to build sustainable and resilient structures that are taller and stronger than ever before. Innovation has allowed us to be more efficient and work safer.
At LaGuardia, we are building a new terminal while keeping the current terminal fully functional. In order to accomplish such a feat, we needed to utilize leading edge technology. This began with developing a sophisticated phased construction schedule. We then needed to use state of the art equipment and software.
I use Bluebeam and excel on a daily basis. Bluebeam allows me to view and markup drawings and reports. This is vital when assembling quality control packages that I then submit to our designers using Procore which streamlines collaboration. Additionally, I can calculate takeoffs from Bluebeam’s measure tool.
Excel is an incredibly powerful software. I use excel to compile a concrete placement log where I track every concrete delivery and invoice. This allows me to easily keep records and calculate average costs of different types of pours. My favorite type of concrete pour is a slip form barrier pour. Skanska utilizes an efficient machine that drives along the rebar of a barrier with a form that fills with concrete and perfectly shapes the barrier. It is amazing to see how quickly this process is.
Skanska also uses technology to keep the site safe. I researched innovations in safety and was impressed by the wearable technology on the current market. I knew that Skanska uses wearable technology on some sites but I believe this technology is necessary on all job sites. In July, I had the opportunity to give a presentation to Skanska executives. I spoke about how we can use this technology to achieve our safety goals. A few weeks later, one of the executives invited me to attend a meeting where we put together a task force to implement wearable technology and other innovative ideas on out project sites.
It is incredible to know that although I am an intern, Skanska values my ideas and gave me the opportunity to make a difference.
What did you learn during your internship that has positively affected your life?
My eyes lit up as the wheels of my mom’s car rolled to a stop. I eagerly tugged against the straps of my car seat to boost myself up so I could get a glimpse of the tractor crossing the road.
I couldn’t wait to go to school every morning because I knew we would pass by the construction site. In my imagination, the site was alive. Each column grew from the ground like an oak in the forest and the machines roamed the site like prehistoric creatures. As the years passed, this feeling of wondrous excitement remained within me. I wanted to be a part of this world- but was there a place for me? Signs that read “Men at Work” sent a message that I couldn’t ignore.
Although I didn’t personally know any women in the industry, I saw them more and more as I grew older. I saw them standing proud, clad in orange vests and steel toe boots. I saw them examining drawings with a meticulous eye. I saw them confidently performing calculations and I saw them fearlessly operating machinery. Could I ever be like them?
I knew I had a passion so I decided to study civil engineering and construction management. It wasn’t until this internship that I got the opportunity to work directly on site. I was beyond excited for this experience but on my first day, I was nervous. I knew that more women than ever were joining the industry and it was no longer considered abnormal but I didn’t know what to expect.
When I arrived on site and met my team, I was thrilled- both of my mangers were women and the two other interns in my trailer were women! The safety manager came to my desk and fitted me with PPE that was specially designed for women’s bodies. All the fears that snuck into the back of my mind were gone.
During the next few months I built relationships with everybody on my site. We all greet each other every morning with a big smile. We learn about each other’s lives and we look out for each other’s safety. Everybody on the project wants to share their knowledge with me and encourages me to ask questions. Not only do I feel accepted on site, but I feel valued as an integral member of our team.
I learned more than I ever expected during this internship. I learned how to pour a bridge deck to balance out the moments, I learned how to utilize cutting edge technologies, I learned how to operate a lift, and I learned how to calculate crane picks – but maybe the most important thing I learned was that there is absolutely a place for me in construction. Now, I strive to be a mentor for young girls who are interested in STEM so they can look to me as their role model and know that they can do it.
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