October 11, 2013
CEE Senior Works on Sustainability Initiatives at GM
Civil & Environmental Engineering senior Stacie Lackler spent her summer designing environmentally sustainable solutions for General Motors at their plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her internship at GM allowed her to pursue her interests in environmental engineering, and also provided real-world experience to complement her coursework for her Environmental Engineering & Sustainability minor. She recently spoke with us about her experience at GM.
CEE: How did you learn about the General Motors internship, and what was the application process like?
Stacie: I was really fortunate. I went to the Technical Opportunities Conference in Fall 2012 and learned about GM’s sustainability program, which is a really neat program. I had an interview, which went really well, and a few months later they called and offered me an internship.
CEE: What kinds of projects did you work on in your internship?
Stacie: I worked in the Global Environmental Compliance and Sustainability program. They work a lot with the facilities and the areas where the manufacturing plants are located, both in environmental compliance and in looking for landfill-free initiatives.
A lot of what I worked on dealt with wildlife habitat. My favorite project was definitely the conservation initiative that we were developing. Right now, GM has 80 facilities that are landfill-free, but the next step is developing a habitat area for each manufacturing facility that includes conservation initiatives. The plant where I worked is about nine hundred acres, and that plant includes a 32-acre plot which GM is using for a wildlife habitat area. It’s never been used for anything, so it has meadows and a spring-fed pond. I worked with that area and also with our certification program.
CEE: Give us an example of one of the conservation initiatives being implemented on that plot.
Stacie: In the Chevy Volt, which is an electric car, there is a battery box that holds the battery. That’s an item that is really hard to keep out of landfills, so GM is using those battery boxes to make bird boxes for the wood ducks and bat houses. When I got to GM, there was also a nature trail that was halfway complete, so I worked with Facilities and upper management to get that finished.
Finishing the trail was great, because for my last project, I planned an event around it. One of the engineers in Fort Wayne is a Boy Scout master, and we had a troop come out on a Sunday evening and assemble six songbird nests. I walked them around and taught them all about the invasive species that we’re managing, and just the other projects that we had along with the nature trail. GM is doing so many great things, but when you think of GM you don’t think of sustainability; you think of cars. So being able to see their conservation side was really neat.
CEE: What was involved in completing the trail?
Stacie: Well, during the summer we had a three-week shutdown to put out a new model. So the body shop was torn out, and we ended up with a lot of extra cable tray platforms that are also difficult to recycle because very few recyclers will accept them. We ended up finding a recycler who would take them, but while we were searching, we used a bunch of those trays to form a trail through a muddy, forested area to the water.
We also worked with the Little River Wetlands Project, an organization that restores wetlands, and their biologists came on the site and taught us about which plants and invasive species should be managed in the area. I made task instruction sheets for all of these processes—monitoring, invasive species management—so they could be continued after I left.
CEE: You probably learned a lot about Indiana’s flora and fauna.
Stacie: Yes. I know so much now – especially when you’re driving in Indiana, many of the invasive species appear on the area at the side of the road, and it’s so different from Pittsburgh. But Indiana was fairly similar to Maryland, where I’m from.
CEE: What were some of the skills you picked up or developed, or new ideas to which you were exposed?
Stacie: I learned how to manage a project from beginning to end, and when to motivate people to get something done. The program I was working in doesn’t build cars; it is a corporate initiative, and being able to communicate the importance of the sustainability initiatives can be difficult. I’m happy because it spread throughout the GM workers; we had some GM employees cutting the wood for us for the bat boxes, for example. When employees saw a project and decided to get involved, they became more invested in it.
CEE: What were some classes in CEE that you think helped prepare you for your internship?
Stacie: Project management was helpful. When you’re working on something you’re interested in, like wildlife conservation, using those skills makes a lot of sense. It was also useful to have experience working with people. And when we updated our industrial wastewater piping all throughout the plant, I put together and drew the entire plan for the new system in CAD. That was really exciting.
CEE: You’ve finished up your internship and started your senior year. How would you say your internship influenced your career goals?
Stacie: It was definitely the most satisfying work that I’ve done. I think it has made me be open to getting as much experience as I can before I need to settle on a career path.
CEE: Do you have any advice for CEE students who are seeking an internship?
Stacie: In freshman and sophomore year, I was really nervous about looking for a job. We have so many resources here to help us get jobs, and I kept telling myself that I hadn’t done enough. Now I wonder why I didn’t do this earlier! So I recommend doing everything you can; go to the career fairs, talk to people, etc. And keep that attitude during your internship. When I was at GM, I worked on being really receptive to the tasks and feedback that came my way.