The Perspective of a SmithGroup Intern: Sparking an Interest
Early last summer, I walked into SmithGroup’s Washington, D.C. office with no previous internship experience. Having just finished my sophomore year at Penn State University less than two weeks prior, I was both excited for the opportunity and admittedly a bit nervous about succeeding as an electrical engineering intern.
As a rising junior in architectural engineering at Penn State, I had taken architectural studio and learned to understand construction documents but had only cursory experience with electrical engineering. I was a little anxious walking into a top interdisciplinary design firm with limited electrical knowledge; however, I was relieved when I learned that some of the electrical team in the office were Penn State Architectural Engineering alumni. Beyond these individuals, members of the electrical team were also welcoming and dedicated to helping develop my skills as an electrical engineer. My Sherpa – SmithGroup’s term for a colleague assigned to help familiarize new team members with various ins-and-outs of the organization – as well as the leader of the office’s electrical team, were immediately engaged in my potential success, determining what I wanted to accomplish and learn as an intern. Instead of being the new kid on the block, I was welcomed as a part of both the electrical team and the firm.
The integrative, creative and collaborative environment and variety of disciplines working together at SmithGroup immediately attracted me to the firm. The structure of the organization aligns well with Penn State’s architectural engineering program, where students are trained in the fields of architecture and engineering. I could see my development as an architectural engineer, which began at school, flourish as I communicated with and designed alongside architects and engineers each day. Collaborating with the Penn State alumni on the electrical team also provided a sense of comfort and familiarity. These mentors understood my education and what it would take for me to be the best engineer possible. And this experience expanded and evolved, as members of the electrical team with different educational backgrounds provided new and additional perspectives that helped to further diversify my knowledge of the field.
The electrical team got to know that I love to learn and included me on a wide variety of projects to help encourage me to become an accomplished, well-rounded engineer and team player. I had the opportunity to work on over 10 projects ranging from a higher education laboratory project in the design development stage to a government survey intended to determine existing emergency power conditions and design possibilities for new emergency power infrastructure. Varying in scope, size and complexity, these projects had me doing everything from dodging mechanical equipment to running lighting calculations for various facility types. My team at SmithGroup harnessed my passion for electrical engineering, understood my eagerness to learn and helped both attributes blossom.
At the end of summer 2018, the electrical team suggested I consider interning in different cities and other organizations within the architectural engineering industry. However, as I reflected on my internship with the firm, I felt like SmithGroup and I just fit. When I was informed of the opportunity to return for another summer internship in 2019 as part of the electrical team in D.C., it was something I did not want to pass up. I knew that if I returned to SmithGroup, I would have the chance to continue to develop professional relationships with my coworkers and expand my knowledge of electrical engineering.
Now a rising fourth-year student, I walked back into SmithGroup this May. Having taken multiple courses surrounding electrical topics, I felt more confident in my electrical knowledge. My team at SmithGroup has given me plenty of chances to exercise my new skills. I feel like I have the freedom to determine what I want to achieve during my second summer at SmithGroup.
This summer, my goals were to expand my knowledge of the various programs and analyses run by the electrical team, and to participate in a project from the design phase. I have worked on six projects so far this summer, and both my supervisor and Sherpa are ensuring that I develop the necessary skills to become a great engineer and collaborator. My favorite experience so far this summer has been being part of an office building tenant fit-out project from the survey to the permit phase. This project allowed me to understand what it’s like to be part of design from the very start. I am glad I completed the internship with SmithGroup last summer and that I decided to return this year. SmithGroup has provided a collaborative and challenging environment that has pushed me to grow and helped prepare me for my future.