School: University of Alaska Fairbanks
Major: Civil Engineering
Company: Knik Construction
Internship from May 9, 2016 — August 19, 2016
My background is far removed from the traditional environment my generation was raised in. I was homeschooled on a small sheep farm in the Montana Rockies and was not even slightly enthusiastic about leaving my small town to attend college in the city. I spent my summers landscaping and horseback guiding, and spent my winters guiding and training dogsledding teams in the mountains. Because of my agricultural background, I had a strong urge upon entering college to become involved with projects that would teach me how to apply my classroom knowledge. Civil Engineering seemed to be the most practical option, and I became actively involved in organizations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Associated General Contractors (AGC), and began and ran chapters for Ducks Unlimited (DU) and the Air & Waste Association (A&WMA) after moving to Alaska. However, it wasn’t until I joined the Steel Bridge Team at the university that my purpose in Civil Engineering took form. Steel Bridge consists of designing, fabricating, and building a steel bridge for a national ASCE competition. It was through those hours of working in the machine shop that I grew to love the construction side of Civil Engineering, and it only escalated when our small team placed first in our region for both 2015 and 2016, and placed 6th at nationals out of over 220 universities across North America and even into China.
Although I spent countless hours working for my father’s land surveying company up until leaving for college, my view of construction changed drastically when I decided to move to Alaska. The construction industry in Alaska is expanding rapidly, as road systems, oil exploration, and infrastructure are increasing. These industries offer a unique opportunity for construction in Alaska, as their progression is hindered with obstacles unknown to construction in the rest the United States. Issues such as permafrost, frost heaving, snow loads, coastal winds, subzero temperatures, remote locations, and lack of material all pose potential risks to contractors located in Alaska.
I stepped into the Alaskan construction industry initially in Fairbanks as I interned for Exclusive Paving during the 2015 construction season. It was as Exclusive that I got a full taste of life in construction, as I was an assistant to the Superintendent and a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) manager for both a small neighborhood resurfacing project (Bennett Road Resurfacing) and a large reconstruction project located in the town of North Pole (Plack Road Reconstruction and Resurfacing). Although it was at Exclusive that I initially learned the entire process of completing a project, from working on bids, managing the SWPPP, utilizing HeavyJobs for payroll, drawing traffic control plans (TCPs), organizing safety trainings and contact with subcontractors, creating pay estimates and margin analyses, assisting the field crew, and organizing all internal project data, there was a different dimension to Alaskan construction that I did not see.
What results did you achieve on the internship, and how did you exceed the company's expectations for your role?
In the spring of 2016 I received an offer from Knik Construction to work as an Office Engineer for the 2016 construction season. Knik Construction, a general heavy civil contractor located in Anchorage, Alaska, specializes in projects located along the coast, in rural villages, and in populated areas across Alaska. Knik monopolizes much of the village work in Alaska, as they are the only contractor capable of barging and transporting material across the state. Hooper Bay Airport Improvements, the project to which I was assigned, was bid as a $25,000,000 project and expected to last until the beginning of 2018.
The project in Hooper Bay was far removed from my original expectations. Located on a small peninsula off the Bering Sea, the village of Hooper Bay consists of a small native fishing population almost completely secluded from the rest of Alaska. This location posed several hindrances, as the only method of transportation to the village is by water or charter plane. Since all the supplies needed were barged into Hooper Bay in mid-May, planning ahead was the vital to the success of the project.
While serving as an office engineer for Knik, I was given responsibilities such as safety officer, SWPPP manager, traffic control supervisor, and office manager. At first I felt overwhelmed by these positions, but then I realized that it is the effort that you are willing to put in that defines your ability to manage multiple functions. As an office engineer, I organized the project data including material quantities, payroll, hiring, barge tracking, pay estimates, submittals, transmittals, freight, and daily reports and documentation. I learned perhaps the most by acting as a traffic control supervisor, because I not only had to make the Traffic Control Plans and implement them, but I also had to manage and hire all of the flaggers. Maintaining organization of these roles took massive amounts of time, ranging from 80-100 hour a weeks during the summer months; however, by achieving these roles I was able to fully fulfill the need of the company for this expansive project.
What did you learn in this internship that will affect your life in a positive way?
This planning and management component of the project was perhaps the most influential part of my internship since it is the direction I hope to take in my career. I had limited experience in management as a twenty-year-old but underwent a sharp learning curve when my superintendent decided to put me in charge of hiring all the locals for the project in addition to directly managing almost ten employees and taking over while he left for vacation. I quickly learned that the best manager was one who earned respect by working alongside his employees and planning ahead. My superintendent was a wonderful example of that very thing, and exemplified an outstanding method of management that left an impression on every one that worked for him.
There were many occasions where I approached my superintendent with frustration, as we not only had to deal with our own crew and building a new airport, but also deal with the many facets of working in a different culture. The State of Alaska Water and Sewer Project located was the main source of employment for the local residents and beyond this organization, the skills held by the applicants were extremely limited. This made the hiring more difficult in the village, due to the lack of skills, high drug use, high crime rate, and extensive alcoholism (in Hooper Bay it is illegal to possess or consume alcohol in any way). Hiring locals was made far more difficult because of these circumstances, but although many of these locals were lacking in skill and professionalism, Knik became a training ground and substantially boosted the economy in the village. Without this experience managing numerous people and situations, I feel as if I would be underqualified upon graduation. Experiences such as these cannot be learned in the traditional classroom.
How were you involved with safety and/or quality during your internship, and how did that change your perspective on construction?
As the construction industry is expanding, the necessity for safe construction sites is also increasing. As a safety officer, I quickly learned that as I was responsible for the safety of the jobsite, I was also responsible for the actions of every employee. I found it very difficult at times to implement certain safety protocol with workers who had spent decades in the construction industry without them, but it became much easier once I gained the respect of the crew.
In the same way I realized the importance of quality within construction. During my time as the SWPPP manager, I spent countless hours preparing and reviewing my documentation of our SWPPP before submission. Any error on my part could result in a large fine to the company in addition to putting Knik’s integrity in jeopardy. There were several occasions where I had to disagree with the onsite Project Engineer, because I could not submit a document that I knew was not formatted correctly. This was difficult especially due to his expansive experience in construction, but I realized that as I was responsible for the implementation and documentation of the SWPPP, I was also responsible for the integrity of the company.
After reviewing www.IBuildAmerica.com, tell us what I Build America means to you?
I Build America is extremely similar to the phrase “We Build Alaska” used by contractors in Alaska. There is a large level of pride associated with construction, because it is the workers in construction who build the future of the nation. There are many misconceptions, however, of the construction industry, and I Build America helps to redefine these. Without the men and woman who dedicate their career to the industry, the advancement of our nation both economically and socially would be impossible. It is with pride that we can redefine the misconceptions placed on our industry, because construction is about far more than building roads and buildings, it is about forming a team of individuals that are capable of building a nation.