School: Texas A&M University
Major: Construction Science
Company: CA Partners, Inc.
Internship from June 1, 2016 — August 26, 2016
My name is Matthew Atkinson, I am a fifth year senior at Texas A&M and will be graduating in December. This past summer I completed my third internship; this time with a company called CA Partners. My first two internships were working on a historical renovation in San Antonio and working overtime for eight months to renovate my schools football stadium. I was a member of the Corps of Cadets for four years at Texas A&M, and was very involved in both on and off campus activities. I chose to pursue a career in the construction industry because I have always loved to create things. Whether, it was building with Legos at a young age, or having a role in building a stadium, I have always had tremendous pride in creating a tangible product. The technical challenges of getting a building off the ground also present tremendous trials that are extremely rewarding to overcome. Pursuing a career in construction has always appealed to me for a variety of reasons. First, knowing that I helped create a structure or road that will contribute to people’s productivity in a very direct way provides me with immense satisfaction. I have also always enjoyed the challenge of organizing a diverse group of people to work together and trying to find the best or most efficient way to accomplish a task. I think construction is a very good career field that utilizes both of these skillsets a great deal.
In this particular internship, I worked for a construction consulting firm called CA Partners. It was only a nine-person firm, which was very different than renovating a multimillion dollar project like Kyle Field at Texas A&M. The role of CA Partners is to represent the bank/lender of the project and approve the contractor’s pay application each month. When the contractor submits their draw, we will review the completed work-in-place to protect the bank’s investment and ensure that there is enough money left in the budget to complete the project and also that the project is being properly managed. With CA Partners, I was able to inspect nearly thirty unique projects over the summer, which allowed me to be exposed to a wide variety of projects. In addition to being able to look at apartment buildings in a wide variety of styles, tilt-wall construction, high-rise hotels, land developments, and shopping centers, I was able to see all of these projects at different stages of the construction process as well.
What results did you achieve on the internship, and how did you exceed the company's expectations for your role?
In the beginning, I shadowed project managers to find out more about what the expectations of a project manager were and exactly what information they were looking for to be in their monthly reports. I worked closely with the two owners accomplishing miscellaneous tasks that they needed from me. My main role while working for CA Partners was to visit jobsites around Texas and inspect their progress. During the three months that I was with the company, I visited Abilene, Austin, and Houston in addition to many jobsites around the Dallas/Fort Worth area, which is where CA Partners is headquartered. The fact that they trusted me enough to visit sites by myself, and write up the reports by the end of my internship was something that I was very proud of, and was not something that I think they were expecting me to be able to do.
In addition to completing monthly reports for jobs, I also did plan reviews for upcoming projects. Before we consult for a project, we will always do a full front-end-review, which includes reviewing all the information from the plans, geotechnical report, contract, specification manual and a full review of the budget. What I did during this process was taking all the information given in the plans and putting it into paragraph form. This was typically a 3,500 to 4,000 word review. In this review, I detailed the number of units, total air conditioned space, thickness of the structural slab, exterior paving, grade beams, piping for sanitary and storm sewer, fire safety lines and much more. I also had to review that the appropriate design professionals had applied their stamps to the plans and that the instructions from the geotechnical report had been followed in the civil and structural plans. These reviews are the returned to the bank so that they have a full breakdown of the project that they are lending on.
Over the course of my internship, I completed 7 plan reviews for our clients. I was also able to do offsite stored material checks for a lender to verify that materials had been ordered and funding could be confidently recommended. Because this was only a nine-man firm, there were a variety of additional tasks assigned to me that gave some insight into how to run a small business. I standardized the official letterhead for the company, designed a welcome slideshow for the TV at the front of our office, and hung up some display boards in the conference room for announcements. Overall, I think that I achieved great results for CA Partners. In addition to the daily tasks I was assigned, I also excelled in the special projects that I was put in charge.
What did you learn in this internship that will affect your life in a positive way?
During this internship I learned a wide variety of lessons, both about the construction industry and about how to handle living somewhere new. Because of the nature of working for a consulting firm, I saw an incredible variety of projects in the amount of time I was there. Each project manager has roughly twenty or more different projects to report on each month, which allows you to see over 20 different styles of construction, project management, contracts and people each month. As somebody that has only worked on two jobsites before, being able to see this variety was a great experience for me. I haven’t had any experience with relatively common things like being involved with installing underslab utilities, any tilt-wall construction or or even building apartments at all. Now, being in a consulting role and having to know enough about these jobs to inspect them created a very steep learning curve for me early on. I know I asked some simple questions about the billing process and tilt wall construction, but I think I learned quickly how the process worked and was then able to find my role in it.
I began the internship going to local jobsites with other project managers and shadowing them as they took pictures, made notes on the construction progress and did their inspection of work in place. After the site visit, I would receive the pictures and write my first draft of the review. We would then go back and make all the necessary changes throughout the document. As I progressed, I would go with a project manager to the jobsite, but I would now get to take the pictures and write up the initial report. We would then go over the report together and make all necessary changes needed. Finally, I would visit jobsites all by myself, take notes on construction progress, and then write up the report. After that, we would review it and send it to the client. During this process I learned a lot about how the construction industry operates and I know that I can take that information with me wherever I work after graduation.
In addition to the construction aspect, I also moved to live in Fort Worth for the first time in my life. I had to commute to downtown Dallas to get to the office everyday, which was a new challenge for me. I also didn’t know anybody besides my roommate when I got there so trying to meet new people, or commuting to see older friends was difficult. Overall, living on my own without knowing a lot of people was a huge learning experience for me during this internship. Besides learning technical aspects about construction, meeting the people within our small firm and building those relationships with them was a tremendous asset in learning how to work as a team, and went a long way to building up my communication skills.
How were you involved with safety and/or quality during your internship, and how did that change your perspective on construction?
We were very heavily involved with quality while we were inspecting jobsites. We represented the lender, who was paying for the project, so it was in ours, and their, best interest to ensure that their investment was free from defects and was made with high quality materials and good workmanship. We had to withhold retainage on a grocery store because the concrete paving in the parking lot experienced very bad cracking, even though the general contractor had approved everything for the concrete subcontractor. It was an interesting situation to solve for all parties and not something that typically happens for us. Another example of us performing quality control was during a site visit at an apartment complex. Pre-fabricated floor trusses were stored over the lip of a curb, and the weight of many additional floor trusses stacked on the bottom truss caused it to bend and splinter at the edge of the curb. When we met with the superintendent after our walk and asked about this, he had not yet seen it and assured us they would be moved and properly monitored. Notifying him of this cracking truss was something that we were both happy with because we knew how much damage it could have caused if it had failed after installation and if someone was above it. In addition to just approving the contractors pay application; it is also our job to make sure that our client receives a high quality product at the end of the day.
Going to so many different projects, I saw a wide array of safety standards. Typically, the larger contractors that had a full-time project manager and superintendent supervising workers had the tightest safety rules, while smaller contractors that were working on small residential apartment complexes allowed their workers to bend the rules a bit more. I saw no safety vests at many sites and even people wearing shorts at a few sites, but that was what the custom was for them, so there was not much I could do as a consultant since it wasn’t my jobsite. However, if there were more blatant offenses, for example, not wearing a hard hat at all, frayed electrical wires, or not tying off, I would absolutely correct the infraction on the spot.
Working with CA Partners changed my perspective of construction because in my previous internship we had been extremely focused on safety and seeing the amount of leniency at some other jobsites was very surprising. Also, seeing the defective floor truss was eye opening in showing how easy it is for a mistake to occur. Providing a long-lasting product that is free from defects should be a goal for everyone.
After reviewing www.IBuildAmerica.com, tell us what I Build America means to you?
I think that I Build America’s mission is to create a sense of pride in the construction industry for what we do. Building America means providing the next generation with the infrastructure and buildings they need to be successful. People need roads to drive on, homes to live in, bridges to travel over, and buildings to work in and what we are doing is providing them with those lasting structures so that they can be even more productive than we are. It is our jobs as members of the construction industry to provide for the future generation responsibly. This means that we build sustainably, and with respect to the environment. While I was with CA Partners, I saw both excellently managed projects and jobs that were very poorly managed. There are certainly lessons to be learned from how a successful project looks, as well as what not to do. I think that “I Build America” tries to provide a way for us to show how passionate we are about construction. Building great structures, managing people, and contributing to the infrastructure is something that I get a lot of pride from because of the impact that I know that it has on so many different people. We are constructing buildings that will be used for decades, and will create jobs, enable businesses to exist and provide goods and services to communities. All of those things are tremendously beneficial to the economy and having a part in creating those opportunities for others is absolutely something that I am proud of.