The Importance of Internships in Environmental Engineering

In today’s competitive work environment, college students need every advantage they can get prior to entering the work force. When our very own Edmond Kirby was a junior at Hofstra University, he too was struggling to find that advantage. Here is his story:

“A notice posted in the Engineering building alerted me to a Co-op program in its pilot year. For a student with no connections in the engineering field, this was an excellent opportunity to gain real world experience.

Hofstra’s Co-op program had a network of roughly 70 companies at the time I joined. These companies participated with the anticipation of hiring an intern for an extended period of time. Co-ops tend to be 6 months in duration while internships tend to last only 3 months during a summer or single semester. The longer internship provided by the Co-op programs allows for deeper exposure and involvement in engineering project work, so the intern has time to learn more and develop professional skills. This allows the student to gain valuable experience and the company benefits from the intern’s productivity.

On May 18th, 2015, Walden Environmental Engineering (Walden) hired me as their first Co-op. I was given the opportunity to participate in various projects, from chemical bulk storage inspections to contractor oversight. Walden invested in me in many ways, including sending me for training to receive my OSHA 40 hour HAZWOPER certification, which expanded my understanding of safe field procedures and construction practices. I experienced first-hand the complications of a job site and quickly learned how to assess conditions and communicate with my project managers before things got out of hand. I was challenged to think about projects and to prepare for a variety of outcomes. At times, with multiple facets of a job occurring at once, I would fall behind if I hadn’t adequately prepared for the project. By giving me project responsibilities equivalent to those of the full-time staff engineers, Walden allowed me to gain crucial hands-on experience that couldn’t be developed in the classroom. Although I thought of myself as an inexperienced college student, I was always treated as an important member of Walden’s team.

The professionals I worked with at Walden gave me advice that my teachers were unable to provide. I learned the importance of being a professional and how my actions were a direct representation of the company. I consistently shadowed experienced engineers while they interacted with clients and contractors alike. The most difficult thing for me, a millennial, to overcome was speaking with contractors, and eventually clients, on the phone. No college course can prepare you for that situation, even though it seems like a simple life skill.”

Internships are pivotal in helping college students gain an advantage upon entering the work force. Whether the internship is through a Co-op program or another connection, they are a great opportunity to learn about the field you’re studying. Edmond’s Co-op experience pushed him ahead of his classmates in terms of growth as an engineer and led to his full-time position with Walden.

Walden is committed to mentoring engineering students and devoting time and resources to future generations of engineers. Please contact Walden at (516) 624-7200 if you’re interested in learning more about our firm.

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