Carnegie Mellon University
November 26, 2014

CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF: CEE Senior Spends Summer at NASA

CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF: CEE Senior Spends Summer at NASA

CEE senior Kiera Davis spent her summer renovating one of NASA's facilities to be leased by Boeing to support their future space program. This was Davis' second internship with Hensel Phelps Construction Company, which is consistently ranked in the list of Top 20 Contractors by the Engineering News-Record. Here, she shares her experience working for the multi-billion dollar national company.

First off, what was it like working on-site at a NASA facility?

NASA is still sending materials up to its space station, so when there was a launch, we'd all go out and get on the roof and watch. Seeing something launch into space is a truly incredible experience. There's really nothing like it. I even got to meet an astronaut in person, which was an honor. Also, because we're doing some work in the vehicle assembly bay, I actually got to see the remains of the Columbia Shuttle. They're held in a classified area, so not many people get the chance to see them, but I was invited on a special tour because I worked for the company.

How did you find out about this internship?

I first learned about Hensel Phelps by visiting their booth at the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) National Convention back in March 2013. A few days after the convention, I took it upon myself to email my resume and cover letter out to three of the company's eight districts. About a week or two later, I had an impromptu phone interview. Then, a week after that, they called to say they'd like to meet with me in person. The different districts usually only recruit within their regions, but apparently one of the Southeast District's Operations Managers is a die-hard Steelers fan. So, my resume initially caught his eye because CMU is here in Pittsburgh... and the rest is history!

Can you describe a typical day of work?

That's actually what I love about working for Hensel Phelps-they give you a huge variety of experiences. In my first week, I shadowed both the Quality Control (QC) Engineer, and the Safety Manager. After that I spent the first six weeks as a Field Engineer, and the following six weeks as an Office Engineer. I got to do it all.

What were your responsibilities as Field Engineer?

I was basically outside all day, every day, assisting our subcontractors. I monitored work being put in place, created many as-builts, lift drawings and trend charts, took daily progress photos, and assisted with QC inspections. I also did things like place concrete, build handrails, etc. It was a lot of hands-on work! On top of that I had several administrative tasks, assisting my superintendent with scheduling, and writing daily reports. I attended weekly subcontractor and coordination/commissioning meetings, and helped resolve field coordination issues. It was a lot of responsibility!

How was working in office different from working in the field?

The nature of the work was very different. Of course there's more paperwork, and plenty of phone calls to make. I processed several RFIs, pay applications and submittal packages, reviewed shop drawings as well as subcontractor insurance and bonds, issued subcontracts, tracked transmittals and material deliveries, conducted material inspections, assisted with change estimates and change orders, and attended owner's meetings.In addition, I led preparatory meetings for new-to-site subcontractors, and I even led a site-wide safety meeting. So I really got to develop my leadership skills.

What important lessons did you learn on the job site?

I would say my internship helped with dealing with all types of people, which is so important. You have to know how to speak to your boss, but also how to speak to your subcontractors. Everyone's got a different style of communication. After two internships with Hensel Phelps, I'd say I've really learned how to navigate that kind of professional environment.

And how has your education at CMU helped prepare you for this line of work?

Right now I'm enrolled in the Project Management for Construction course, which gives a basic outline of what the construction industry really is. So that's really helpful. And of course I have strong background in engineering. But I think the big thing CMU helped me with is my time management skills. Especially when I was working as an office engineer, there were papers everywhere, and just so much to do. But thanks to my time at CMU, I'm used to having a lot of work. The courses here are very demanding, but they force you to work hard, and they give you such a variety. CMU really prepares you for the world. I feel like I can do anything.

What are your plans for the future after you graduate?

Two weeks prior to the end of my internship, my project manager presented me with an official full-time employment offer, so I will be working for Hensel Phelps after I graduate in May! I don't know specifically where I'll be going yet, because we're constantly getting new projects. I'll either be a field engineer or an office engineer. I really love working for this company, so I'm eager to get started wherever they send me!

Do you have any advice for students seeking their field internships?

I would say that it's important to be proactive, and to start early. Also, be willing to discuss your experience aside from just what classes you're taking. My interview at Hensel Phelps went well because I was comfortable talking about myself as a person, beyond my education, which is of course very important. But people don't just want to know about the work you've done, they want to get to know who you are as an individual. I think it's important to realize that. If you're comfortable with yourself you'll be more successful.



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