Melissa James at Colorado State University

How did you know you wanted to study Civil Engineering?

P1040472When I started applying to college, I honestly did not have any idea of what I wanted to do “when I grew up”.  I had taken a bunch of personality tests that told me I could be anything from a garbage person to a baker.  I decided to go into Civil because that is what my dad does, and I enjoyed the challenge of math and science.  I did not even know what a civil engineer did until my first semester at CSU where the intro class told us about the basics of the career field.  From there, it wasn’t until after my internship the summer after my freshman year at the Bureau of Reclamation in my hometown that I decided civil engineering was something I could actually enjoy.

The major turning point that solidified my choice in civil engineering was during Thanksgiving break of my second year at CSU.  I was taking an honors section of Statics and learning about how all the forces needed to balance out in order for an object to stay still.  My parents and I were road tripping for Thanksgiving in the south, and every time we passed a bridge or building I would nerd out and get overly excited about knowing how it was staying static!

Since then, my focus has narrowed to wanting to focus on the water aspects of civil engineering, such as water resources and hydraulics.  The reason behind this is because of the endless challenge that comes with solving the mysteries of water in this growing world.  It took me some time and adjusting to get here, but the journey has made all the difference in helping me decide who and what I want to be!

 

What drew you to CSU from out of state?

I wanted to come to CSU because I wanted to experience something new and different from the town I grew up in.  California, although only a short drive from my home, was too expensive as an out-of-state student and was a little too close to home anyway.  After that, I saw a poster in the window of my high school counselor’s office for Colorado State and decided I wanted to go there!  Having the benefit of the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program made it much more affordable and a reasonable choice overall.  CSU also has a wonderful engineering program with plenty of diversity to mix things up and keep a person from being too single-minded.  This was a huge draw to me, and I have loved every bit of it!

 

How does the Honors Program impact your workload and time as a student?

I have felt a lot of benefits by being in the Honors Program, one being the connections I first made my freshman year because I lived on an honors hall in the Aspen residence hall in Academic Village.  Our hallway had a great mix of people in all different major, and it was easy for me to find people to watch Disney musicals with at 3am on a Saturday!  By being in the Honors Program, the size of CSU shrunk as I gained more connections to other students.

The academic benefits of the Honors Program have also been wonderful!  The Honors Program is a great resource for getting out of those basic-level reading and writing classes and into fun, engaging seminars instead.  I felt that the honors professors gave a lot more respect to the students and allowed us to think outside of the box and discuss/consider things we had never thought of before!  I have taken seminars are western novels, globalization, the philosophy of freedom as portrayed through film, and much more!

In addition, the honors sections of my engineering classes gave me a more in-depth knowledge of the topics and challenged me in a way that normal-level classes would not have.  The work load is not something to be concerned with.  If anything, I felt like that honors program better prepared you to do your homework and was never something burdensome.

 

What are you involved with on campus at CSU?

Getting involved on campus is super important, especially while being an engineer because it allows you to take a break from all the intense math and science of school and do some fun things too!  I joined a sorority my freshman year with non-engineers because I wanted to find a group with a diverse background outside of the continual engineering discussions.  My sorority is the thing that gave me purpose outside of my classes by giving me a home-away-from-home and getting me involved in community service projects.  The awesome thing about sorority and fraternity life at CSU is that it does not follow the stereotypes whatsoever!  We are more of a Greek family as a whole than a bunch of individual groups against each other.  The Greek letters connect us to others on campus and again create a smaller campus by giving us more familiar faces to see while walking around!

I also got involved on campus by being a student ambassador for the College of Engineering.  Through this, I was able to make a lot of great friends with my coworkers, network with people in the working world, and give of myself as a guide and resource to potential and incoming students, just as Yoda was a guide to Luke Skywalker.  This job has given me purpose and another view of the world.

During my final semester, I started working at the Engineering Research Center, helping compile a technical report about the impacts of in-stream structures on river flow.  This has given me the opportunity to take a look at real-world issues and how solutions are being developed.  I got this job by taking the initiative to email one of my professors and ask if he knew of any openings in his research studies.  I was lucky enough to be just what was needed!

Also during my final semester, I joined Engineers Without Borders and spear-headed the fundraising event called Bands Without Borders.  I worked with other members in the club to plan and organize the benefit concert.  We collected donations from local businesses for raffle prizes, booked local bands to play at the event, and advertised for the event itself.  The event turned out to be a huge success, larger than any other year!  I enjoyed getting to know other people within the club and work towards the common goal of creating a raising money to improve the well-being of people in developing countries.

 

What kind of job opportunities have you had?

I have had two internships while at CSU.  The first one was the Bureau of Reclamation in my hometown of Carson City, Nevada and was during the summer after my freshman year at CSU.  This internship was unique in the way that there was not a set program; instead I was assigned to do tasks within each division for 3 weeks a piece, but anytime someone went on a field trip, they were directed to take me along too!  Because of this, I got to experience a bunch of different aspects of working in the Federal government.  I observed a lot of small town risk meetings, helped capture endangered butterfly species, and went on a lot of various site visits for everything from seepage issues to core sampling.

The second internship I had was during the summer after my fourth year at CSU.  This internship was with MWH Global in Sacramento, California and was in the water resources division. MWH Global is often hired by the Bureau of Reclamation, so it showed me the opposite side of the coin in the private sector versus public sector.  While working in Sacramento, I helped with projects in all stages of development from initial steps to final submission.  After about a month and a half in Sacramento, I was sent to a small town in Idaho to assist with a fish survey study on a superfund site.  This part of the internship required more physical engagement than mental, as I was hauling gear through bushes and trees and walking in stream beds of chilly water.  The final part of the internship was to spend two weeks in the Fort Collins office, again doing water resource projects, before school started.  This gave me a comparison between large office (Sacramento) and small office (Fort Collins) atmosphere.

Overall, both internship experiences gave me a lot of hands-on learning I would not have received in the classroom!  They also allowed me to interact with many diverse people and hear about their opinions, suggestions, and life stories.  All of this has led me to where I am now and given me a better idea of what I want to do in life and the type of company I want to work for.