Carnegie Mellon University
December 16, 2014

Internship Gives Senior Hands-On Project Management Experience

Internship Gives Senior Hands-On Project Management Experience CEE senior Michelle Couste (BS'15) worked this past summer for Rycon Construction here in Pittsburgh on the forthcoming LEED-certified Morrow Park City Apartments. We recently caught up with Michelle to hear about her summer experience.

CEE: Tell us a little about your summer internship.

Michelle: I was an intern for Rycon Construction on one of their projects. Rycon is a relatively small general contractor that started in Pittsburgh. One of the co-founders is a CMU alum. They've expanded a little bit to projects outside of Pittsburgh, mostly towards the Ohio valley, but they're still relatively small. My project was the first project where they self-performed the concrete, which was kind of a big thing for them.

I worked on the project for about two-and-a-half months, mostly with the project engineer and the project manager. We had weekly meetings, one with the owner and the architect, one with all of the sub-contractors that were working on site. A lot of what I did was to assist the project engineer and the project manager. I made the Master Schedule for the project, helped with some of the deliverables for sub-contractors that were early, taking their information and their paperwork, making sure it was all up to spec so we could approve it.

I did a lot with the grade beam, calculating the amount of reinforcement there was supposed to be. A lot of the calculations I did were checking to make sure that the sub-contractors did an accurate calculation. One person did a rebar (reinforcing bar) calculation and another person did a rebar calculation, mine was very close to one, but not very close to the other, so we looked into the one that was not close to see where the problems were.

CEE: How did you find out about this internship?

Michelle: I was looking for an internship for the summer. I had tried a bunch of places but nothing was working out. In February, I kind of googled construction companies in Pittsburgh and construction companies in Maryland, two places I knew I would be able to find reasonably-priced housing last minute. I cold-emailed a bunch of different companies.

About a month later, Rycon called me. They asked, "Do you still need an internship for the summer?"

CEE: What would you say was one of the most enjoyable parts of the experience?

Michelle: My favorite thing was just walking around the site, going to sub-contractor meetings, hearing reports from everyone, and watching it actually happen.

CEE: How has this internship influenced your career goals?

Michelle: I thought that construction was what I wanted to do, I just hadn't found an opportunity to delve into it. I did this summer, and it is what I want to do.

CEE: Were there particular CEE classes that helped prepare you for this project?

Michelle: Jim Thompson has taught a bunch of my classes, and the biggest things he taught us were that clear writing is very important; and that calculations need to be written out in a way that if someone who doesn't know what's going on, or who knows the basic fundamentals but doesn't know how you did it, can come look at your calculations and understand. I found those both very useful because part of my job was writing up this little newsletter to give out to the local community each week about updates on our project. And also, when I did all these calculations about the amount of rebar or the number of doors in a building, I had to write up the calculations so that I could hand them to my boss and he could immediately understand what was going on. I also needed to make sure he could understand it even when I had left at the end of the summer. So those were two of the biggest things, and I still found room to grow more.

CEE: Did you acquire or develop any new skills?

Michelle: I picked up some skills and general experience, an understanding of some of the terms. A lot of it was terminology, a lot of it was a thorough understanding of how the architect, the owner, and the general contractor interact with one another. I also got a better understanding of construction as a whole, and how many variables go into creating a project.

It was a very good internship experience. I was very lucky. And I found it in a very strange way. I have a standing offer with Rycon that I could take upon graduation. I'm also a little interested in trying to work abroad for a few years.

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