What does an Intern do at an Engineering Design Firm?

By:  Andrew Taddie

We’ve all heard it a hundred times, that saying that goes along the lines of “no matter how much you learn in class, you will go into your first job having no idea what you’re doing.”  The same is usually said about internships, only worse. For this reason, interns are commonly pictured as unimportant assistants to a company’s junior employees- making them coffee, bringing them doughnuts and filing their paperwork, among other basic tasks.

When I first started my internship with Allegheny Design Services (ADS) back in May, I couldn’t help but wonder if this would be my role. After all, how could I possibly give any input to the design of concrete and steel structures when I hadn’t even taken those classes yet? How would I use advanced Building Information Modeling (BIM) software when my only experience was with AutoCAD?

As you might imagine, a student intern’s role in design doesn’t include producing steel framing drawings for entire buildings or designing concrete slabs for parking garages. Yet, as it turns out, my experience with ADS has been anything but getting “coffee and doughnuts.” Over the course of the summer and fall, I came to realize that there are many tasks besides steel and concrete design involved in this process.

When I first started, I performed everything from measuring existing structures to creating spreadsheets that others could use as design aids. I drafted charts and small scale drawings, checked the forces on cables to be placed at the future baseball stadium, determined dimensions for a pedestrian bridge, calculated the center of mass of barges, and determined how to efficiently flip certain sections of said barges. What is the common theme here? All of these things are important to our design process but were accomplished without any knowledge of design. Ah, those introductory classes were beneficial after all- statics, dynamics, calculus and especially that computer applications class I took in high school!

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Of course, for the more experienced intern, there are plenty of small design tasks that can be covered too. After a while, I started learning a bit of steel design and I got to apply it to base plates, spreader beams and lifting lugs. I also got to try my hand at reinforced concrete design for a foundation wall. Some of these things I got handed back to me covered in red ink, but that is just part of the learning process. Since every document has to be checked multiple times before being sent out the door, an intern is given a fair amount of freedom to work on a tough project and more leeway than one might think when it is not done correctly (side note: Is this why the ADS office is located on Leeway Street?).

So, back to the question, what is the intern’s place in design? It turns out that there is a plethora of duties even for a student with just a basic engineering background. With ADS in particular, I am lucky to work under people willing to teach me the things I haven’t learned yet. You can only learn so much in the classroom, but there is no limit to what you can learn from direct industry experience.

Thanks for reading,

Andrew

To see our website and many projects, visit:  https://alleghenydesign.com/our-work

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Written by Andrew Taddie

Andrew is a fourth year civil engineering student at West Virginia University. He is very active in his major, as he is co-captain of the steel bridge team for WVU’s chapter of American Society of Civil Engineers, as well as vice president of WVU’s chapter of Chi Epsilon, the Civil Engineering Honor Society. His engineering work experience also includes a co-op with the West Virginia Department of Transportation. Upon graduation, Andrew plans to pursue graduate school to continue his studies of structural engineering.