Q&A: Through the Eyes of a Student 

Q&A: Through the Eyes of a Student

President Biden’s Infrastructure Law is bringing long-overdue attention to our nation’s aging infrastructure. Between the normal wear-and-tear that occurs over time and the rapid damage being done by the increasing severity of storms, our buildings, roads, and subsurface utilities need a makeover. As the need for infrastructure improvements increases, so does the demand for land surveyors and civil engineers. Unfortunately, our industry is not exempt from the worker shortage we’re seeing nationwide. The reasons behind the shortage of industry professionals are debated, but the answer likely lies somewhere between the education and permit requirements, and a lack of visibility into the profession itself.

It will take an industry-wide effort to combat the lack of incoming professionals, which is why DGT is proud to host a summer intern program. Our goal is to introduce students to the exciting and evolving world of surveying and civil engineering — surveying, CAD software, project designing, and more. With funding beginning to trickle down from the Infrastructure Law, this is an excellent time for young professionals to get their foot in the door.

This year we had two bright scholars, Cameron Reiser and Lou Vigeant, join us in our Boston and Framingham offices where they helped across dozens of projects and gained insight into all things surveying and civil engineering. We recently sat down with them to hear about their time at DGT, their career goals, and what they see for the future of the industry.

Where do you go to school and what’s your major?

Cameron: I’m a sophomore at the University of Connecticut and I study mechanical engineering, but that very well could change. I’m still deciding what field of engineering I’d like to pursue, so working at DGT has been a huge help in that process.

Lou: I’m going into my senior year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and I study civil engineering.

How did you get introduced to DGT?

Cameron: I have a neighbor whose grandfather is a civil engineer, and he knows a few people that work at DGT. When he heard that I would be studying engineering, he introduced me to the DGT team and the rest is history! This is my second summer at the firm, so I’m lucky to have had that connection.

Lou:  I was researching potential firms to intern with and stumbled upon them. I sent my resume in, and they quickly acknowledged my application, which set them apart from other companies I applied at.

What got you interested in civil engineering?

Cameron: I’ve always been interested in math and science, and engineering is the perfect blend of the two. Even though I’m unsure of the type of engineering I want to pursue post-grad, being in the field has allowed me to really explore my interests.

Lou: I come from a construction-working family – my grandfather owned a large construction company and now my brother owns one as well. Prior to DGT, I spent my summers working for their businesses and really enjoyed my time there. I met some civil engineers while on the job and I thought it would be cool to learn about the design plans I was being handed. Ultimately, I want to be the one coming up with those plans rather than the one constructing them.

What kinds of projects have you worked on this summer? Do you have a favorite?

Cameron: I’ve had the chance to work on a variety of projects – surveying property lines for houses across the state, visiting construction sites, and just today we were working in Rhode Island at Blackstone River which was beautiful. But out of all of them, I think my favorite project was surveying a natural gas plant. I got to survey it last year while I was interning and seeing how things changed over the course of a year was really interesting.

Lou: They let me work alongside the firm’s engineers and project managers, so I’ve had the chance to work on more than 30 projects this summer. I’ve helped with site inspections for a $50 million dollar school in Amesbury, MA, helped with the preliminary design of a luxury apartment building going up in Boston, and surveyed sites across the state. Those were all interesting, but my favorite project was running soil tests out in the field. Being outside in the dirt is my favorite thing, so having the chance to spend the whole day digging and running perc tests was a lot of fun for me.

Have you learned something this summer that you didn’t, or couldn’t, learn in a classroom environment?

Cameron: One of the most important things I’ve learned is that a project doesn’t always go according to plan, and you have to be able to pivot. Let me explain — when we’re working with a project’s design and construction team, we often receive calls explaining that there’s something underground that wasn’t in the design plans, or that there wasn’t anything underground when there should have been. I’ve had to learn how to manage those types of situations, and more importantly the communication skills around them. I definitely wouldn’t have gained that experience in a classroom.

Lou: Communication. More specifically, with the contractors who are doing the work and the project owners who are spending money – and that communication carries on throughout the entirety of the project. Whether it’s because there were changes to the project plan or because a contractor ran into an issue on-site and needs a solution, we’re always communicating with project stakeholders.

I’ve also learned a lot more about CAD software on the job than I did in the classroom. There’s so much more to it than what they teach in school, and I have a lot to learn if I want to become a licensed civil engineer.

What advice would you give to other students that are considering going into this field?

Cameron: Ask questions and listen to the people that have been doing it for a long time. Last summer I worked closely with someone who had more than 40 years of industry experience, and no matter how specific or random the question, he always had an exact answer for me. Being brave enough to ask questions is how you’ll learn and grow.

Lou: Even if you can’t find a civil engineering internship, doing something related to the field will help you out. I spent the last three summers working construction, so I had the opportunity to be around civil engineers and witness how their plans turn into reality. That experience made it very clear to me that this is what I want to do, and I think others would benefit from a similar hands-on experience.

Do you have any predictions for the industry?

Cameron: I don’t know a lot about the industry besides what I’ve learned at DGT, but a hope I have is that to the industry will attract young talent. For whatever reason, civil engineering doesn’t seem to attract recent graduates the same way other types of engineering does. I guarantee that there are a lot more people out there that would be interested in civil engineering if they had more visibility into it.

Lou: I’m hopeful that the industry will continue trending towards “green” projects. The federal government recently passed a bill that’s putting a huge amount of money towards combatting climate change, and part of that is going to be building infrastructure that is sustainable. I think this could be an opportunity for the industry to shake things up and draw more people in, especially young professionals.

What are your career goals?

Cameron: I’m not sure yet. I’ve only completed one year of university, so there’s a lot left for me to learn in terms of engineering. I’m interested in learning more about large machinery, so I want to take mechanical engineering courses this year and see how it goes. I’m also considering Aerospace. I have a lot to figure out!

Lou: My short-term career goal is to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam before I graduate, which would make me an engineer in training. Four years later, I’ll have to take the Professional License Engineer (PE) Exam to become an official engineer, which is my end goal. I’m also passionate about the sustainability of civil engineering, so my long-term goal is to get involved with “green” projects and focus on the impact infrastructure has on the land it’s built on.

Interested in joining DGT? Check out our open positions.