Hello my name is Nick Sianta and I’m a Civil Engineering major at Colorado State with a minor in Spanish, graduating in December of 2015. Completing nine semesters of coursework, I can confidently say that the civil and environmental program here has given me the pertinent skills to be a successful engineer. The courses are comprehensive and cover the many areas of civil engineer. However, there are many things about the industry that can only be gained through work experience. I was fortunate to have a couple opportunities that have certainly improved my engineering knowledge.
My first internship experience was working as an undergraduate research assistant for the Geoengineering program at CSU, supervised by CSU’s Dr. Chris Bareither. I worked on a research project that assessed the shear strength of geosynthetic clay liners (GCL), an engineered material used in fluid containment applications. The major task I was given was to design the testing apparatuses that would be used to measure the shear strength. Working directly with CSU’s own machinists, I was able to take my ideas from paper to a working prototype. Along the way, I gained the critical design skills that you can’t get from class. Additionally, I performed soil testing, created synthetic chemical solutions, and performed wiring for data acquisition.
I also had the opportunity to work an internship outside of academia, working as an inspector and materials testing trainee for RockSol Consulting Inc., based out of Westminster, CO. The project that I worked on was the resurfacing of State Highway 66 in Longmont, CO. Working through the night to reduce traffic hazards took some getting used to, but the experience I gained was invaluable. Our role as the engineers was to perform quality assurance, overseeing the operations of the contractor and subcontractors. Understanding the interactions between consulting engineers and contractors is something you don’t get in class, but is essential if you aspire to work in project management. I prepared quantities for the milling, asphalt, and striping of the highway, using the information to make cost estimates. The highlight of the job for me was working with a crew composed mainly of Hispanics, practicing my Spanish through the night and serving as a translator when necessary.
Performing an internship of any sort is extremely valuable for career development. It doesn’t have to be in the exact field you’re interested in; simply by getting outside of the classroom you learn other skills that all professionals have. I can confidently say that my experiences have better prepared me to contribute to the industry than if I had only done the coursework.