Transportation internships benefit students, cities and beyond
Thursdays aren’t just regular class days for Stefan Floeter, a senior majoring in civil engineering at the University of Delaware. He spent a recent Thursday morning at a construction site along Route 301 in Middletown, Delaware, watching as colleagues drilled for road signs and light poles. For the past year, Floeter, who has a passion for design as well as work that gets his hands dirty, has been an engineering intern through the T² Center at the University of Delaware. Stefan is one of a series of interns who have been filming the US 301 construction project as part of a project to develop training videos documenting the Delaware Department of Transportation’s standard construction practices.
“I’ve learned so much here,” he said. “I’m seeing the stuff I used to read about in classes.”
The T²/LTAP Program is a partnership among state universities, state departments of transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration. There are 52 centers throughout the United States with primary missions to promote training, technology transfer, and research project implementation at state and local transportation agencies. For example, the T² Center at the University of Delaware trains public works departments in signage and sidewalk regulation and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Since 2009, the T² Center at the University of Delaware has placed civil engineering students in internships with local governments and private companies in the transportation sector. The nature of the work runs the gamut from asset management data collection to analysis to construction inspection and more.
“These are not coffee-fetching internships,” said Matheu Carter, the T² Engineer and Municipal Circuit Rider for the Delaware Center for Transportation’s T² Center at UD. “These engineering interns are being placed in positions with real responsibility and working on projects that really matter.”
Kendra Knopp, a junior majoring in civil engineering, interned at UD’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) lab over the summer. She documented and mapped municipal agreements through a partnership with DELDOT.
“I learned how to use new engineering software and also improved my proficiency in Excel,” she said. “This internship also helped me see a different side of civil engineering. I originally wanted to work with structures, but now I’m thinking more about a job in the transportation sector.”
In addition to technical skills, these internships help students develop critical soft skills, including communication.
“Students learn to explain their highly technical work to citizens who ask questions about it,” said Earl (Rusty) Lee, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the T² Center at the University of Delaware.
These skills pay off as the interns progress to professional careers. Former intern Kate Smagala, a 2011 graduate of UD, is now an Engineer II at Century Engineering, Inc. During her internship through the T² Center at UD, Smagala traveled to Delaware towns to collect data on pavement conditions, sidewalk compliance with ADA, and signage retroreflectivity — the property that keeps road signs visible at night.
“I learned the technical aspects of ADA compliance, and because we had to put our findings into a report and provide a recommendation of how to fix problems, I got practice looking at the big picture of projects,” she said. These skills serve her well now as she does technical design of highways, curbs, sidewalks and more.
As much as interns benefit from these internships, the cities and companies who sponsor the interns do, too. Interns complete projects in a cost-effective manner and bring a fresh perspective that companies might be missing out on otherwise.
“Think about the things you really want to do but that don’t justify the cost of a consultant,” said Carter. “Hand it over to a team of interns, and you will be surprised — in a good way — by the results.”
Carter and Lee are beginning the process now to place interns with interested agencies and companies for summer 2019, so if you wish to be included or just need some coaching to develop a successful internship program, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.