Over the last semester, I have been away from Lehigh on a co-op with Remington & Vernick Engineers. My rotation ended a few weeks ago and I cannot even begin to write how much I have learned from this experience. I have grown in technical aspects but I also gained valuable insight in areas I never considered prior to this co-op. For my next few blog posts, I will be talking about projects I have worked on. Hopefully, for all the prospective civil engineering majors out there, you can have an inside look on what a civil engineering company actually does from an intern’s perspective.
One of the best parts of my experience was that my company gave me opportunities to explore many areas of the industry. You see, as a civil engineer, there are many smaller positions and concentrations I can focus on. A little over a month in my co-op, my department head asked me to help the inspections department for a week.
Construction inspectors are vital in any engineering project. Inspectors are the bridge between the engineers, those who design the project, and the construction contractors, those who actually construct the project. The construction contractors are given plans from the design engineers, which the contractors will construct. The inspector must ensure that the contractors are conducting the construction in accordance with the plans created by the engineers. The job is actually more difficult than it sounds because plans created by the engineers are not always constructible. Sometimes the terrain and geography of the location makes a design, perfect on paper, impossible to construct. The inspector must direct the contractors when the project must differ from the designs.
My brief experience as a construction inspector was particularly difficult for me because for the first time, I am supposed to be watching and supervising contractors who are much more experienced than I am. To describe my nervousness, I repeated thought to myself was that I am supposed to be telling people, who knew my job better than myself, what to do. Like many problems I faced in my co-op rotation, there was no clear textbook answer on how to deal with this situation. In addition, I cannot pull the “I-am-an-intern” card because I need to have the contractors respect my role as the inspector (if they realized that I’m actually just a student intern, they probably would ignore anything I tell them)!
At the end, I resorted to being incredibly respectful to the contractors while keeping a close eye on the specifications and drawing plans I was given. It was definitely an experience outside of my comfort zone, but I learned a lot!