School: Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Major: Civil Engineering
Company: PC Construction
Internship from May 16, 2016 — August 10, 2016
My name is Cierra Ford and I am from Georgia, Vermont. I am currently enrolled in my junior year of college at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA, where I am studying Civil Engineering with a Minor in Entrepreneurship. I became interested in civil engineering due to my interest in sustainable development and my fascination with the effects of urban sprawl in America.
I first looked into the construction industry after my freshmen year at WPI, when I applied for an internship with PC Construction as a Field Intern. I applied for this internship because of the value in learning an industry from the bottom up. Gaining experience as a construction laborer would give me the knowledge of construction from the most basic but important perspective, as a builder of what the engineers design. If I were to ever design something in my career, I knew that it would be sincerely helpful to have a background in construction so I could understand processes better.
In my position as a Field Intern, I performed manual labor tasks on a variety of construction projects such as demolition at a high school, carpentry, pipeline repair, and resurfacing an existing dam. I worked under a foreman and alongside experienced construction laborers, all of whom taught me about the construction process. I learned vital information from the internship of how a construction process is physically implemented, how much effort must be put into a project to make progress, and how many other factors besides the work itself can influence the construction process.
After gaining experience in construction, I realized that I enjoyed the industry and the process and wanted to learn more. I liked the idea of being on-site, taking part in the physical progress of the construction of, and observing the steps it took to perform a project. Sophomore year at WPI, I took courses focusing in Project Management due to my deepened interest in the construction, and then got offered another position at PC Construction this time as a Office Engineer Intern for this past summer. This internship gave me a whole new perspective on the construction process, because instead of a laborer, I was part of the management team. Both years have expanded my interest in the construction industry and pushed me to pursue my career in this direction.
What results did you achieve on the internship, and how did you exceed the company's expectations for your role?
As an Office Engineer Intern for PC Construction this summer, I worked on the Central Plant Chiller Expansion project at the University of Vermont. I was exposed to a completely different side of the construction process than last summer working as a Field Intern.
I worked closely with the Project Manager, Senior Superintendent, and Project Engineer, all of whom taught me, both directly and indirectly, how to work confidently and effectively as a part of their management team. I worked in a job trailer on-site, so I could walk around the site each day to observe different processes. My specific tasks included managing the erosion control program, coordinating with both subcontractors and vendors, performing quantity take-offs, taking progress photos, reviewing submittals, writing RFIs, updating the contract drawings, and managing the electronic documents for the project. I worked with the program Bluebeam Revu, and also gained experience with the web-based systems PC Construction uses to coordinate with subs and send submittals to the architect for review.
Throughout the summer, I got to observe the step-by-step process of the actual construction of the project and compare it alongside the drawings for a better overall understanding. When I arrived at the site, there was only an excavated pit where the addition would be built, so I experienced most of the progress, including the installation of the mechanical and electrical systems, the forming and pouring of concrete slabs, footings, and foundations, the backfilling process, grounding the building, the erection of structural steel, the installation of the roof, and so forth. Although the project itself was fairly small in scale, its complexity – being the power plant of a university campus – is overwhelming, so being exposed to each step of its construction was a great opportunity for me.
Working on the operations side of a construction project provided me with knowledge of the legal aspects of the professional practice through a hands-on experience of helping to manage a construction project. In my role as an Office Engineer Intern, I believe I exceeded the company’s expectations by completing tasks efficiently from the beginning. I learned quickly as I worked, and this allowed the management team to assign more complex work to me. They let me take parts of the project into my own hands, trusting in my ability to perform to the project’s needs. During the early construction phase of the project, the Project Manager and Project Engineer had many submittals to review, many subcontractors to track down, and the work wasn’t as organized due to being in the early stage of construction. I helped with the organization, and took a good portion of the work off of their hands, which allowed the Project Manager and Engineer to focus on specific issues with subcontractors, the architect, or other focused details with the project they needed to attend to. Overall, this impacted the efficiency of work implementation and preparedness of the project team as a whole.
What did you learn in this internship that will affect your life in a positive way?
Holding the position of an Office Engineer Intern with PC Construction this past summer has taught me many things about teamwork, relationships, trust, and the construction industry as a whole. Being a part of the general contractor’s management team for a large construction project was a unique experience in itself. Both by observing the interactions of my team members with each other and interacting myself, I saw the importance each person’s role played on the other members’ roles. In order to be a successful team both in this construction project and in whatever team I will be on in the future whether it be in college courses or my job, collaboration, trust, and responsibility must be emphasized every day. This allows everyone to rely on each other for deadlines or the proper completion of important tasks, and creates a solid network of people that can work in the most efficient and effective manner together. What I learned about relationships, building them, maintaining them, and depending on them, will also have a positive effect on my life whether it be in the construction industry or not. Learning how to manage a diverse group of people is complex in itself, but also seeing the importance of upholding these relationships throughout your career was interesting. During my internship, I had to contact subcontractors, vendors, the engineer, architect, and others that were valuable to the project’s completion. Gaining the experience of both working alongside and managing professionals through effective communication is something I can take with me no matter where I pursue my career.
How were you involved with safety and/or quality during your internship, and how did that change your perspective on construction?
There was a PC Construction Safety Specialist on-site at the project I worked on this summer, the expansion of the Central Chiller Plant of the University of Vermont. I attended the Safety Orientation when I started the summer in order to learn about the specific hazards to the job, guidelines of walking through the site, regulations enacted by OSHA, etc. Everyone on-site was required to wear steel-toe boots, hard hats, and safety glasses at all times, which was heavily enforced by the PC management team. The PC management team also collected completed and signed forms at the beginning of each workday from each foreman that served as evidence that each subcontractor had been involved in a daily safety meeting before beginning work on-site for the day. These also showed the type of work that each sub would be doing on-site so coordination could be made if necessary to avoid conflict or safety hazards. Throughout the summer, I attended the weekly safety meetings run by the Safety Specialist with everyone on-site at the two projects PC Construction was working on side-by-side at UVM. These meetings brought together the management team and subcontractors for both projects (the other project was the construction of a new STEM building) to discuss the current construction occurring at each site, future construction on each project that may affect the other project, and weekly safety topics and issues. As part of the management team, I was also involved in Pre-Construction Meetings that included discussing the safety specific to the tasks of each subcontractor brought on-site. Being exposed to the numerous safety meetings and hearing the topics and issues discussed taught me how vital safety is to the construction process. Safety issues affect many aspects of a project: they may result in OSHA fines, an undermined reputation, they may lengthen the schedule, and they can be both subtle and easily-perceived. Something seemingly negligible can have a dramatic effect on the project as a whole. There was a fatal accident on another project at UVM with a different contractor during my summer there, which only added to the relevance of simple safety precautions in everyday construction. I’ve always known construction as a dangerous industry due to the equipment, environment at each job site, and the type of work that needs to be accomplished. However, interning at a construction company for two summers has given me deeper insight to the importance of safety on a job and how much time and thought is dedicated to safety in construction in order for a project to run smoothly.
After reviewing www.IBuildAmerica.com, tell us what I Build America means to you?
Our lives, whether it be our career path or not, revolve around construction. People and companies in this industry build businesses, roads, water treatment plants, our homes, buildings that house entertainment venues, power plants, etc., all of which are necessary for people to go about their daily lives. I Build America is a way to instill pride of those who work in the construction industry and also to spread awareness of the power it has to build the country. From small local contractors to million-dollar firms, they all work to build, maintain, and improve what America is today. Some don’t realize the weight which they lean on the construction industry, and I Build America is how the efforts and accomplishments can be recognized. To me, IBA breaks the industry down into individual and local efforts to show the bigger picture of how construction affects the country. This way, the work of each laborer, engineer, foreman, superintendent, etc., are all valued in the same way. Construction firms are broken down into many parts that include diverse tasks, but each are for the common focus to building a project. And even though one project may not make a distinct difference in America, collectively, the projects are how the country functions and moves forward. IBA establishes a sense of respect for all levels of construction, local, state, and federal, and for each individual who can share their story as to how they have impacted America, either directly or indirectly, through their work.