From Power Circuiting to Site Visits, Electrical Engineering Intern Ready for the Real World

Swanson Rink hired Nici James, a senior electrical engineering student at Colorado School of Mines, to be an intern in our Electrical Engineering department. We asked what her experience was like and this is what she said:

What was your experience as an Electrical Engineer Intern at Swanson Rink like?
Overall, my internship in the Electrical Engineering department at Swanson Rink proved to be challenging and interesting, but most importantly – fun! This was not my first internship, but it was my first in the consulting engineering industry. The field of electrical engineering seemed so straightforward, but I learned it was actually quite the opposite. It was interesting to see everything else that goes into these buildings starting from the initial conception of design through the construction phase of a project. I spent my summer learning what goes into powering a building, which is not common knowledge!

What challenges did you face?
The transition into the work force, as it is for most engineers, proved to be a challenge. I quickly noticed that no amount of schooling could prepare me for the real world applications of electrical engineering. In college, I learned about the theories behind working at a design firm, but the majority of knowledge is obtained through experience in the field. This is why internships are imperative to engineering.

What did you learn?
I learned that it’s not a bad thing to ask questions. The only way to learn engineering applications in this field is to ask questions to the professionals who have been in the industry for years. They really know this industry inside and out, and they are great resources, especially for entry-level people like myself.

One of the best parts about working at Swanson Rink was the atmosphere and the people that work there. My coworkers were dedicated to helping me understand why we were doing what we were doing; and they didn’t think any less of me, no matter how silly the question seemed. I don’t think I could possibly put into words the amount of information that I learned during my experiences as an intern. I not only learned a lot of theoretical applications, but I also got to see how the business side of a consulting engineering firm works.

What surprised you?
The biggest piece I took out of my internship was how important communication is between the different engineering disciplines, and how it is an imperative part to completing a project. I was surprised by how much time an engineer spends interacting with people. They are pretty much in constant contact with architects, contractors, and vendors.

What was your favorite part?
My favorite part of this internship was the opportunities I had to work on a range of real projects; several of them being mall and office building projects. This gave me the opportunity to see the whole process that the electrical engineering team goes through to get a project out. The work completed on the mall projects mostly included the back of house lighting and power circuiting. I also had the opportunity to set up all of the lighting for stairwells as well as the parking garage receptacles for the mall. Additionally, I worked on the lighting as well as power for the office buildings. While designing the office buildings, I learned to be aware of what type of room I was working in; for example, the lighting and power needs are different in a kitchen than in an office. I was also able to go on a site visit to both a mall and office building, so I was able to see the construction process and the final product.

What advice would you give a first time engineering intern?
I would advise a first time intern to always keep an open mind and to ask questions. Both are extremely important to getting the most of your intern experience. It really is important if you want to understand what you are doing instead of just going through the motions.

Date: 11/10/2015

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