Despite pandemic, URI civil engineering student completes 2 internships – URI News

KINGSTON, RI – September 30, 2020 – When the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the northeastern United States in early March, schools switched to distance learning. Classrooms have become virtual and practical. Face-to-face learning opportunities, such as internships and laboratory research, were deemed too risky.

“Almost all of my friends had internships for the summer that were canceled, turned into remote or shortened internships,” said Natalie Wilcox, a senior at the University of Rhode Island who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

As excited as Wilcox was about the summer internship she hosted at civil and environmental engineering firm Langan in New York City, she expected that would not happen, given the circumstances.

Natalie Wilcox at the Haugland Group office

“Given that New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic in March and April, I was almost completely certain my internship would be canceled,” Wilcox recalled. “However, I kept in touch with the HR representative throughout the process. It wasn’t until May that I learned that my internship would take place, but it would be shortened to two weeks.

Wilcox’s internship being cut short turned out to be a blessing in disguise. This gave him time to do a second in-person internship at a construction company in Long Island, New York, named the Haugland Group, before returning to URI for the fall semester.

Since Wilcox hails from Malverne, New York, a village on the south shore of Long Island, the two internships were minutes away.

Short but valuable experience

Natalie Wilcox on the Walt Whitman Bridge
Natalie Wilcox on the Walt Whitman Bridge

The geotechnical engineering internship at Langan was initially scheduled to last 12 weeks. While it was impossible to squeeze a full summer of learning into two weeks, Wilcox accomplished a lot.

The first week consisted of intensive training on AutoCAD, computer-aided design and drafting software, and Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations.

During the second week, Wilcox visited many active construction sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

“The most exciting thing I have experienced was a massive excavation project at the American Museum of Natural History,” Wilcox said. “I learned the design of shallow and deep foundations, and witnessed the sub-layer of soil and rock.”

Wilcox connected what she learned in the classroom and in the lab to the URI at work that goes on all around her.

“Everything I learned in my geotechnical engineering conference came rushing back to me,” Wilcox said. “As the excavation was 25 feet below the streets of New York City, I could clearly see the different layers of soil and rock and how the bedrock in this area of ​​Manhattan looked like a valley. This is something I never would have imagined. “

In Wilcox’s geotechnical lab at URI, she would often perform tests on soils for hypothetical situations and then make recommendations for improving conditions.

“One test I did was a direct shear test on soils for a retaining wall, and then I had to determine if the conditions were right,” Wilcox said. “I recommended ground nailing or anchored ties to improve stability under these circumstances. It was exciting to then see the ties applied in real world projects in New York. “

A good impression pays off

When Wilcox learned that her internship at Langan would be reduced to two weeks, she immediately contacted her former supervisor at the company she worked for last summer.

“I did an internship last summer at JFK Airport for the construction company Haugland Group,” Wilcox said. “Fortunately, my supervisor welcomed me with open arms.”

This time around, Wilcox was assigned to a taxiway paving project at LaGuardia Airport and construction work at the Walt Whitman Bridge, among other projects.

“I worked 36 hours over a weekend at LaGuardia,” Wilcox said. “There was a ton of planning going into it. I attended the meetings leading up to the operation. I joined the team on the first night shift and helped the superintendent with the trucking schedule for the milling and paving operations and organized the timesheets and sign-up sheets.

Work on the Walt Whitman Bridge also took place in the evening.

“My boss asked me if I wanted to go out at night to watch the steel beam installation,” Wilcox said. “I like being on the pitch, whatever the time of day, so I jumped at the chance. I was able to witness the steel construction for the first time.

Wilcox had the pleasure of working for the Haugland Group for a second summer.

“The projects I worked on at Haugland are only half of the experience,” Wilcox said. “These were just as much the people I worked with, and it wasn’t limited to the engineering department. Haugland Group treats its employees like family, of which I feel lucky to be a part.

Two internships, two perspectives

The combination of two internships not only provided Wilcox with a great summer learning experience, but also provided two different perspectives of civil engineering.

“I’m in conflict over which aspect of civil engineering to pursue,” Wilcox said. “Design engineering would allow me to exercise the technical knowledge I learned in school and later allow me to write my own projects. On the other hand, technical construction has given me the opportunity to work alongside the people who plan and execute the actual construction of the projects and to watch the work unfold before my eyes.

Wilcox appreciates that two companies have been willing to accept him as an intern, especially since many of his peers have not been so lucky this summer.

“I am so grateful that Langan was ready to hire me and that I was able to return to Haugland Group for a second summer,” said Wilcox. “I learned so much about construction management and the role of a construction and geotechnical project engineer. I have also established many relationships in the areas of construction and engineering design.


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