School: Arizona State University
Major: Construction Engineering
Company: Kiewit Infrastructure West Co.
Internship from May 23, 2016 — August 8, 2016
Construction has always been a natural part of my life ever since I could walk. Growing up I would dig in the backyard, drool over construction projects in our neighborhood, and dress up as construction workers for Halloween. If the idea isn’t already clear, I had my sixth birthday party at the Empire Caterpillar dealership.
I have no family in the industry, so the only exposure I had to the construction while growing up was from the sidelines. Once I reached high school I was absolutely determined to find my way into the game and my passion for building America was only growing.
When I was 17 years old, there was a new storm drain project in my neighborhood that I would go check up on every day after school. Determined to start my career in construction, I cold called the owner of the company performing the work, Rich Pierson, and essentially begged for a job once I graduated high school. After months of calls and emails, he gave me a job as a general laborer and two weeks after my graduation from high school I hit the ditches with a shovel in hand.
Every day that first summer I learned something new, whether it be about how to set a piece of pipe, how to work in a trench safely, or even how to deal with practical jokes from my coworkers. Despite the Phoenix heat, I couldn’t have had more fun and entering college I was more driven than ever to keep on building.
After that first summer I knew I had more to learn from being a laborer and operator, so I went to work on a pipe laying crew with a different contractor the summer after my first year of college. Then with two years of field experience, I needed management and estimating experience, so I pursued both. First I spent a summer working as a field engineer for Skanska USA Civil on Union Pacific Railroad building train bridges. Following that summer, I went to work at Haydon Building Corp as an estimating intern to learn how the job is put together before any dirt is moved.
Working this hard through college had given me the fortune to choose the absolute best experience to finish out my college summers, which is why I chose to intern with Kiewit Northwest District. Looking back on my latest experience, I could not be more prepared for the realities of construction upon my graduation.
Internships in construction have always been a no brainer for me and it’s been a seamless progression. I don’t stress or over think the decisions, I just do what I want to do and have never regretted a decision. The internships I have been fortunate enough to hold have taught me more about the construction industry than school ever could and I have loved the journey thus far.
What results did you achieve on the internship, and how did you exceed the company's expectations for your role?
I have never been prouder than I am about my internship with Kiewit Northwest. I had a refined and specific set of goals going into my internship with Kiewit and I thought about them each day on and off the jobsite. I wanted to achieve greater responsibility than I had held before, achieve the respect of the people I worked with, form successful and productive working relationships with everyone on the job, and go out of my way to help make other’s jobs easier whenever I could.
Kiewit’s expectations are beyond what most companies’ expectations are for interns, but I felt that my personal goals were beyond Kiewit’s. Overall expectations were along the lines of working hard, working well with everyone on the team, and taking on responsibility. I believe I exceeded these expectations as well as my own, which is why I’m so proud of my internship.
I always had the Kiewit company expectations in the back of my mind, but my personal expectations were always front and center, as I thought they were a step above and more tailored to what I need to work on as an individual. Once I was on the job, I immediately began to learn how the job worked, what everyone’s roles were, how Kiewit worked things, and finally found places for me to dive in and help out. I took over the tracking of all job productions and man-hours, the ordering and delivery of necessary tools and supplies, and the documentation of the explosives used by the blasting operation. Once I was comfortable with the tasks I was assigned, I searched out things I could help with that were beyond Kiewit’s expectations. I quickly learned how to set up blasts and helped with every blast we performed, taught myself how the post blast plans were put together, and figured out ways to analyze and streamline our trucking operation.
All of my personal expectations were intertwined, so while I was focused on gathering greater responsibility, I was simultaneously forming strong relationships and earning respect. I came to know everyone at the site on a personal level and worked hard to help them out whenever I could. I’ve learned that helping people make their own work easier instead of solely focusing on my own is the best approach to building relationships and earning respect. Whether it was something small like buying someone a coffee or something a bit bigger like noticing a broken tool and ordering a new one before they asked; it was always appreciated and always helped us accomplish the mission and build the job.
The results I achieved were beyond Kiewit’s and even my own expectations. Everyone on the job was genuinely disappointed by my necessary departure but were all appreciative of what I had done for them personally and for the company. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome of my internship experience.
What did you learn in this internship that will affect your life in a positive way?
I learned some phenomenal lessons along my journey in the construction industry thus far and after reflection, this summer is no different. Everything I learned this summer has a positive effect on my life whether it be about construction or life in general. I learned through listening, asking questions, observing, reflecting on mistakes I made, and utilizing problem solving skills to take particular actions into my own hands.
The objective of the project I was on was to produce 82,500 TN of jetty stone for the Army Corps of Engineers. The project involved drilling and blasting 275,000 CY of material, mining and sorting the material for stones between 6 and 30 TN, and then shipping these stones to the port to be loaded onto a barge. The whole operation was new to me: the equipment was bigger, the operation faster, and the hours longer than I had ever seen before. The technical skills I gained from the drilling and blasting is most important, because it’s a specific skill that few people have. This knowledge gives me an enormous competitive advantage over others when it comes to other drill and shoot operations and allows me to be a valuable part of any team I join in the future. Having this specialized experience is invaluable and I’m excited to find out where it may take me.
Beyond the construction industry, I learned some powerful life lessons that I know I will carry with me well into the future. I learned to trust myself when I make a decision, learned how to listen better to suggestions from people in the field, and most importantly how to react when things go awry.
In the past, I only worked jobs that have, for the most part, gone well. Everyone was at ease and happy with their work since it was all well worth it. However, at the quarry this summer, everyone was stressed to begin with and that only became worse when we were plagued with equipment problems. We had well thought-out plans to achieve estimated productions and everything was going well until our equipment starting failing at a startling rate. Our plans were soon obsolete and not knowing what to do I stood back and observed the experienced leaders take charge. Instead of panicking, they charged head on and saw the problem for what it was. They used all their focus to find creative solutions to the bad situations, made sure the solutions would really work, and then went on to implement them without second guessing.
I was fortunate enough to see this process repeat itself multiple times and I was sure to carefully watch every time. I realize that how I react is more important than the situation itself so I know I will carry this lesson with me for the remainder of my life.
How were you involved with safety and/or quality during your internship, and how did that change your perspective on construction?
I have been involved in safety and quality from the very first day of my construction career and my internship this summer was no different. Our industry, and Kiewit in particular, places safety as the absolute most important principle on any job. Everyone is empowered when it comes to safety and it’s everyone’s responsibility.
Being one of the very few staff members on our site, I was heavily involved in safety each day. Our site was under MSHA, giving us more stringent standards to follow compared to usual construction sites who are under OSHA. My first task was to learn and understand all the MSHA regulations so I could ensure every day while walking the pit that we were within compliance and ensure all our laborers and operators were working safe. I attended every safety meeting each morning with the crews, discussed daily safety topics with the foremen, and reviewed JHA’s for every operation. While walking the pit, I ensured all stationary vehicles were chalked, berms were up to height, everyone’s PPE was in good shape, and made notes of any unsafe acts so we could correct them immediately.
Beyond observation, I pursued active discussion about safety and I was sure to talk to all members of the crews throughout the day to see what their thoughts were on site safety. I was respected and viewed as an equal, so they shared their candid opinions with me, and in turn I shared their opinions with higher management to ensure they were heard. The laborers and operators were on the front lines each day so their opinions and suggestions were critical to maintaining total safety.
While safety is paramount, quality isn’t far behind, and I was involved in quality from the start. The jetty stones we were producing had to fall within specific gradation bands mandated by our client and it was my job to ensure we were on track to meet our target. Beyond the gradation, each of the stones had to be a certain shape and without flaws. I would walk the pit and inspect the stones along the way to ensure they were exactly what the client required and if any were out of spec, they were thrown away.
The second aspect of quality I was involved with during my internship was the tracking of all explosives used by our blasting operations. Every component utilized for the non-electric blasting had to be accounted for before and after each blast. This stringent tracking is mandated by the ATF and must be reported every week so it was absolutely critical that I performed all my tracking and quality control in a timely manner every day. I enjoyed the responsibility given to me by Kiewit and through this responsibility I learned how important safety and quality are in the construction industry.
After reviewing www.IBuildAmerica.com, tell us what I Build America means to you?
I Build America essentially means my future. I’m extremely glad an organization such as I Build American exists because I believe the construction industry needs it now more than ever before. As the website says, construction is often long and challenging work, so it’s important for all the people in the industry to be proud in what they do. If we as an industry are proud, the days will seem worth it and the quality and safety of work will improve.
In my short time in construction I have often found myself feeling down about the lifestyle or difficulty of the work each and every day but it’s important for me and everyone else to step back and realize the difference we are making in our country. We are allowing everyone in America to do the great things they do by providing them with the essentials like shelter, water, and transportation. Without us to build America, America can’t grow. When I remember the importance of our industry and my future career, I can’t help to feel proud and even more passionate about my career choice.