School: John Brown University
Major: Construction Management
Company: Ellingson Contracting
Internship from January 5, 2016 — May 18, 2016
I originally started out in college studying Entrepreneurship, but my dream was always to get involved in construction. About halfway through my time in college, I realized that some sort off explicitly construction related major would be much more helpful for me in trying to get into this field. I transferred schools, and started pursuing a degree in Construction Management. During the summers while I was working toward my bachelors, I tried several different construction related internships, including one installing low-voltage wiring systems in a Walmart, and one working on highway construction in Dallas. By the time I graduated, however, in December 2015, I knew that I was very interested in trying to do construction overseas, especially in the developing world. The opportunity came for me to do a five month internship with Samaritan’s Purse International Relief in Nepal. I went there with the intention of helping with reconstruction after the earthquakes that devastated the country in the spring of 2015. After two weeks of training, I shipped out on a flight to the other side of the world.
What results did you achieve on the internship, and how did you exceed the company's expectations for your role?
Upon arriving at the Samaritan’s Purse office in Nepal, I found out that the role I had initially expected to have when I arrived was not yet feasible. Before leaving, my impression had been that I would be dropped off by helicopter somewhere in the Himalayas to figure out some way to rebuild schools and houses that had been destroyed. I learned after I arrived, however, that the necessary government approvals were still pending approval, and that the actual locations in the country where our organization would be conducting its operations was not yet finally determined. Because of these issues, I was not only unable to go out into the field to begin supervising construction projects, but no one back at the office in Kathmandu seemed to have any idea what I should be working on while I was there. In order to remain productive, I spent the first few weeks reading up on Nepali building codes, which were quite different from codes in the United States. Because I was not terribly occupied during these first few weeks, I also started attending the government and community level meetings with the groups that our organization would be working with over the next few months. Although I was disappointed by how long it took for approvals to come through allowing us to start work, these few weeks helped me develop a good understanding of the post-disaster situation in Nepal. After a few weeks, I realized that there was a dearth of people at the office who were able to use computer assisted design software, and especially software providing three dimensional renderings. I was able to begin designing some of these projects, and by the time I left the country four months later, I had been given the chance to develop preliminary designs for two model homes and four schools.
I finally was able to make it out into the Himalayas, where I spent the last three weeks of my internship living in LangTang, a multi-village community located two days walk from the nearest road. The center of this community had been completely devastated by an avalanche released when the earthquake struck last Spring. One entire village had been buried, and several adjoining had been completely flattened by the blasts of wind the avalanche created. While staying in this remote area, I was able to assist in the planning and presentation of seminars demonstrating to local villagers techniques and principles for building back safer houses that would resist future earthquakes, and I was able to witness two of the houses that I had designed be reach completed construction.
What did you learn in this internship that will affect your life in a positive way?
Some of the most important lessons I learned from this internship were the challenges and rewards of doing construction in the context of community development. Since I was part of an organization providing relief aid, it was imperative that the recipients of the aid be involved in the process of designing their houses, schools, etc. to make sure that it was something that they would actually be interested in living in and using for the years to come, and not simply an injection into their community from a foreign NGO. In addition, I learned the importance of gaining and working with the necessary government authorities to acquire their approval and support for our organization’s activities in each area. Whether or not I do construction work again in a developing world context, I think that these ideas will be very applicable and useful when interacting with all the interested arties in any construction project.
How were you involved with safety and/or quality during your internship, and how did that change your perspective on construction?
Because I was not able to spend very much time being a part of the actual construction implementation, I was not a part of any safety considerations on our jobsites. The primary dangers that I saw were related to transportation, such as helicopter crashes, flooded rivers, dangerous mountain weather, altitude sickness, and vehicle accidents. In my few weeks in the field, I was able to provide a small amount of quality control on the houses our organization was building. While in the mountains, I visited the construction sites for these houses, and checked to insure that earthquake resistant measures were being incorporated into these houses to protect the occupants from future earthquakes.
After reviewing www.IBuildAmerica.com, tell us what I Build America means to you?
I Build America means that, as a constructor, I am involved not only in whatever project I happen to be assigned to at the time, but that I am also involved with helping to improve the country of which I am a part.