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Interns tackle real-world projects

By : Karen Fennie

When Josh Goldman and Dan Forino applied for an internship with the Physical Facilities design group, they were hoping to get real life experience.

“We study a lot of theory in class,” said Goldman, a junior from Huntington Valley, Pa. “The internship is more practical experience.”

The students say the internship is more challenging and hands-on than they anticipated and has definitely given them a more “worldly view” of what is involved in professional mechanical engineering work.

The pilot program, which began this semester, is proving so successful that a third student, Mike Tren, a senior from Brooklyn, is participating even though he will not earn the four credits Goldman and Forino will be eligible for as formal participants. “I wanted to see specifically what engineers do on a day-to-day basis,” Tren said.

Before the internship, Tren was concerned that he was pursuing a career that would have him sitting at a desk all day. The design group opened his eyes. “It seems like everyone is enjoying themselves,” he said. The job is much less desk bound and fun than he had imagined, since a lot of work involves visiting job sites to assess problems.

“The word is out among the students that this is a great program,” said James Pitarresi, chair of the mechanical engineering program in the Watson School of Engineering and faculty adviser to the students.

The internship program was talked about for years. Nelson Eshleman, employee specialist with Physical Facilities, and Lorna Wells, director of student services for the Watson School, developed a list of skills and experiences the students would gain and at the same time outlined benefits the department would receive. An e-mail went out to students at the beginning of the semester and applications soon poured in.

Physical Facilities engineers Tony Citriniti and Jason Gilbert, who are supervising the students, immediately assigned them a project and pointed them to the resources that could help them with the work.

“I want them to take their book knowledge and apply it to real-life situations,” Citriniti said. One of their first projects was to do the design necessary to place a fire hydrant in front of the Institute for Child Development. “We were given a problem where nothing was set,” said Forino, a senior from Westbury, Long Island. “We had to find the solutions for ourselves.”

Goldman and Forino soon found themselves surrounded by books describing building codes and design standards. That’s when the real learning began.

“In class, you’re given a problem with all the information and you use a formula to solve it,” Forino said. “Here you have to find the information, sort through it and find a solution.”

By tackling projects like the fire hydrant, Goldman and Forino are learning about hydraulics, the use of building standards, cost estimating, how to prepare contract and bid documents and how to prepare for client meetings. They keep a journal of their work and experiences. They both say this experience will help them decide if mechanical engineering is something they want to do.

As a licensed engineer, Citriniti knows how valuable that experience can be. “I want to get them to do the thinking,” he said. “It is the kind of practical experience they will need, whether they go into consulting or industrial engineering.”

Pitarresi is always looking for good internship experiences for students. “The facilities group here on campus is a great fit for our program; they tackle a variety of “real-world” engineering problems,” he said.

Besides the “real-world” exposure, a huge benefit of the program is that it is right on campus, Pitarresi said. Students don’t have to commute or relocate to participate. This makes coordinating the program relatively easy.

The students have been exposed to many other projects, including the Events Center fire suppression system, ventilation for the costume shop in the Fine Arts building and a parking lot construction project behind Science 1.

Each project brings different engineering challenges, and some of the experiences are paying off in the classroom. “I already used what I learned in the fire alarm project in a lab,” Forino said. “I breezed right through it.”

The internship is valuable for Physical Facilities as well. The students are per-forming AutoCAD work and some survey-ing and assisting with design and document review.

Larry Roma, associate vice president of Physical Facilities, said the internship aligns with elements of the University’s strategic plan since it provides an opportunity for students to gain actual knowledge and confirm a career direction. “If I am looking at resumes, it’s a no-brainer to look for someone who has practical experience,” he said. “I am excited that this program is providing this for our students.”

Pitarresi says that the program is doing exactly what he was hoping it would. “Not until you actually have to solve real-world problems do you appreciate the challenges faced by engineering design work,” he said.

The program will continue in the spring semester with two more students working alongside Physical Facilities engineers exploring problems and solutions to engineering challenges around campus.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08