Crystal’s Intern Experience: Learning From the Team

I never thought I would be walking the job site, collaborating with subcontractors, and analyzing concrete and steel all in the first week, but at Alberici welcomed my curiosity and started me up with the rest of our crew as if I’d been here for months. My name is Crystal Bell, a rising Junior Civil Engineering Major at Saint Louis University. Last summer I worked with a structural design firm in Madrid, Spain, and this summer I am working on the SSM SLU Hospital project in St. Louis, MO.

My first day with Alberici was spent in a well-organized orientation that did two things. One, it helped us become more familiar with Alberici as a company. They began 100 years ago and through the generations this company has grown immensely while maintaining its core values. One of the things that stuck with me is their commitment to growth without revenue focus. Quality, fairness and honesty are three guiding principles that promote their 10-year vision. And it wasn’t just something they said to look good, I have seen it in action daily since arriving on site. Two, it showed us Alberici’s investment in their interns. There were multiple employees in the room all day even when they were not presenting. Everyone has deadlines, but they took the time to make themselves available for questions and networking. And the cherry on top were the welcome gifts we received that would help us get started in comfort and fashion!

It is wondrous how much I have changed as a person in just two weeks. I was a baby civil engineering student with classroom knowledge and my natural confidence. Two weeks ago that seemed like enough to push through the summer. However the people on site have shared decades of knowledge and perspective that I have internalized and it has changed my demeanor. Example: I work in a lab at school, and I met with my professor the other day about some summer initiatives. A month ago he told us that he would build an incubator this summer and that I could help since I would be in St. Louis for the summer. In our meeting the other day, he told me I’d be building it myself. A month ago this feat would have made me quite nervous just thinking about all the moving parts, things that I have never seen, and the pieces that could go wrong. But now I have seen a massive construction project with thousands of moving parts, literally and figuratively. Everything is a colossal challenge that requires chipping away at small solutions until reaching the ultimate goal. So when he gifted me with this deed, I felt an adrenaline rush and smiled, knowing that I was capable of succeeding.

So I feel this new sense of being, adventurous spirit, and technical mindset, but it comes from somewhere. It is up to the intern what they do with knowledge gained and lessons learned, but it is the people around us who are generous to share what they have. Jim, a superintendent, knows about so many niches of construction that walking the site with him is like jumping into a pool filled with textbooks, except it doesn’t hurt. It’s just a brain overload that I digest back in the trailer with my notebook and construction drawings. Another superintendent, Jason, notifies me when things are happening on the job site that I may want to see, like concrete pours, surveying, and crane erection. He is also a jack of all trades and helps me understand random aspects of the project I point out on site walks. Caitlin, a project manager, has helped me understand piers, rebar, tie beams, and grade beams by using visuals and colored pens. Katy, an assistant project manager, offers tips that make walking the job site safe and purposeful. Frank, a senior project manager, reminds me that it is healthy to loosen up sometimes and make a joke or two. I have the privilege of sitting across from him and it’s a joy. Pat, a project director, taught me that with every question I should have a thought through answer, even if it is the wrong answer. He sends me off to problem solve alone, yet welcomes my questions and uses mistakes as a learning tool. And Austin is my direct supervisor and has welcomed each of my questions. In construction there is terminology coming out of the sky it seems, and Austin takes the time to break it down for me. He has guided me through submittals, recommendation letters, bid packages, estimates, and subcontractor collaboration just to name a few.

I recognize these people because construction is a team event. Alberici could not do it without the architect, subcontractors, and nothing at all would happen without the trades working on site. My buddy, Dean, is the drill rigger, and he is the reason the hospital will stand strong for generations to come. This is all in TWO WEEKS that I have met and learned from countless individuals that make this 370 million dollar project come together.