Staff mentor interns, impart valued experience

Student internships are a vital way of life at Washington State University, even in offices that are nonacademic. Students receive instruction, encouragement, experience and sometimes make friendships that last a lifetime. And often times, the learning process is a two-way street, with supervisors and mentors learning a great deal as well. A case in point is Capital Planning and Development.

CPD manages major construction projects statewide at WSU. A nonacademic unit, CPD’s contact with students was limited to providing information for class projects — until 1999.

With the arrival of Jerry Schlatter, CPD’s executive director, interaction with students took on a new role. Schlatter’s vision of CPD as a natural training opportunity has resulted in an “unofficial” internship program that provides work experience, reference letters and paychecks to students learning firsthand what it means to design and build buildings. They say they’re learning things “you can’t get from a classroom.”

Consider a few recent CPD Interns:

Amanda Brice, a construction management student who graduated in May 2003, says, “In the construction industry, experience is truly what counts. At CPD, I learned a lot.” She works as a construction engineer in Gig Harbor, Wash.

Kathryn Taylor, a current architecture student, says, “This internship has given me a better awareness and sense of reality concerning the processes and procedures of a design project. The employees are extremely helpful and make interns feel a part of the team.”

Construction management student Mark Waters adds, “It’s like having additional lessons every day that the other CM students are not receiving. I can’t think of a more ideal situation for a student.”

Staying in contact
Civil engineering student Oscar Schneegans participated in the ROTC program at WSU in addition to his work at CPD. He graduated in December 2003, entered the Army, and returned to WSU in July 2004 to be married in a quiet ceremony at the CUB. Shortly after his wedding, Oscar shipped out.

The war in Iraq has become up-close and personal to CPD staff through Oscar’s e-mails. In November, Oscar described an ambush against his platoon that resulted in the death of one soldier and injuries to others. At the end of that letter, Oscar asked us to “pray for my soldiers … for me, that I’ll lead my soldiers effectively … and for the local people, that we may earn their trust and respect.” CPD staff offered those prayers on Oscar’s behalf.

After January elections in Iraq, Oscar wrote, “Everything we’ve done … has led to this.” And, “To those who have supported us, I say ‘thank you.’ ”

Internship benefits also extended into the after-college life of Anne Garrett. She was studying mechanical engineering when she was hired by CPD. She spent most of the first year buried in space audits at Johnson Hall for the new biosciences building currently under construction. A few months later, CPD hired civil engineering student Craig Langseth. Garrett and Langseth graduated and married in May 2004, and spent their honeymoon traveling to new jobs as project engineers.

In addition to architecture, CM and engineering students, CPD has had interns in interior design, landscape architecture, finance/business, agriculture technology and management, pre-hotel and restaurant administration, sociology, and information technology management.

Experience leads to jobs
Nearly 40 students have worked for CPD; most left to find positions with firms such as McCarthy Construction (California), Callison Architecture (Seattle), Siemens Energy & Automation, Lydig Construction (Spokane), Turner Construction (Los Angeles), and Design West (Pullman).

“Our concept of ‘intern work experience’ parallels my own career as an apprentice architect and later as principal of my own firm,” Schlatter says. “Most young people need that first work experience, and if CPD can help in that regard, it’s a win-win for all.”

Although CPD’s program is unofficial, it benefits both CPD and the students. According to Marci Hansen, an architecture student and CPD employee, “This has definitely been my most rewarding experience at college.”