Alex Darr (ETM): Civil Engineering to Environmental Consulting

Alex Darr interns at Freese and NicholsFive years ago, I would never have believed I would be working at an engineering consulting firm. Not only is this a surprise to me, but also to the contractors and clients who had a 19-year-old showing up to meetings and site visits. On more than one occasion, I would show up at a wastewater treatment plant, a city stormwater meeting, or a job site and get the strangest looks from people. I’ll be honest, I really enjoyed the dazed and confused looks I got from seasoned professionals. This summer I interned at Freese and Nichols, a civil engineering firm located on Centennial Campus, as their Engineering Intern.

While at Freese and Nichols, I worked in the 1180 group, which is Raleigh’s engineering and design services. One of the great aspects of this internship and working in a small regional branch is the professional engineers are very diverse in their technical areas. Our office includes areas such as water and wastewater design, program management, construction services, water transmission, stormwater, and master planning. My internship focused on the development of technical skills and proficiency with design and spatial software such as AutoCAD Civil 3D, Microstation, and ArcGIS. The majority of projects I assisted with during my time at Freese and Nichols were water/wastewater design, utilities design, master planning, and stormwater work.

Our office has an “on-call” contract with the City of Raleigh for stormwater services. One of the sites that we do work for is a pipe culvert on Schaub Drive near Western Boulevard. I worked with our stormwater project manager on site evaluations for this particular project. The pipe culvert has been degrading over the years and the downstream portion of the culvert has detached and is collapsing into the stream. Part of our evaluation included assessing the stream features such as sinuosity, or curvature, along with sediment deposits, headwall conditions, and forebay/afterbay conditions. Flood probabilities have to be considered when designing a new headwall for the downstream and upstream structures.

Construction Services
Design is an important part of engineering, but following up on the construction phase of the project is vital to ensuring client satisfaction. Site visits allow us to check-in with contractors so everyone is on the same page about the technical details and ensure that the project is completed according to schedule. I worked with one of our project managers tasked as a client liaison for a contractor. The project was the addition of filter buildings, sludge, and backwash tanks for a private water utility company. During these site visits, we would insure the “as built” structures were in accordance with our design plans and specification for the project.

Water/Waste Water and Utility Design
A majority of my time dealt with the replacement of several water lines for a private utility provider in the City of Fayetteville. This particular project consisted of replacing approximately a mile of eight-inch water line, including the connections and reconnections to land parcels along the road it ran underneath. This was a very interesting project to work on because I had the opportunity to see the entire life of the project from contracts to design, bidding, and construction. A major portion of my contribution to this project was creating the specifications, which are often between 300-600 pages in length, and creating plan sheets using Microstation and AutoCAD. Once the design portion was complete, we contacted contractors and suppliers to create cost estimates and gain interest for the bidding phase.

My internship with Freese and Nichols was exceedingly valuable as I had the chance to work in many technical areas. The experience of working with high level professionals in these areas was especially valuable since they had a great deal of advice to give on not only projects, but also school, professionalism, and developing yourself to be marketable. I was offered the opportunity to stay on with the company at the end of the summer to continue through the semester and I accepted without hesitation.

I look forward to the many more skills I will gain from working with this excellent group of individuals. Having the chance to see into the world of consulting was very beneficial for me personally. These firms can seem very intimidating from the outside, but the people I worked with were all very supportive and willing to help me learn. Consulting is definitely the area I want to be in as I look for a career.

Working with clients and adding value to society through projects for cities and municipalities are extremely rewarding because you can see your time and effort every day. This is definitely the type of company I can see myself a part of when I graduate. I hope to have the opportunity to intern with an environmental consulting firm that deals with stream restoration. My interests are definitely in water, the environment and ways in which we can reduce our impact to protect our resources.