Inside Seven
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Eight students are interning in District 7 as part of the High School Summer Internship Program, offered in conjunction with the American Council of Engineering Companies’ California Student Outreach Program. From left to right: Emmanuel Kashimbiri, Rachel Harris, Victoria Williams, LeeAnn Sanchez, Douglas Mills, Jesus Rivera, Montoya Waiters, Machen Legardy.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Interning at Caltrans!
by  Kelly Markham
Issue Date: 08/2009

Eight local high school students are spending six weeks in District 7 learning about the engineering profession through the Summer High School Internship Program.

For some high school students, summer break means hanging out with friends, spending way too many hours on Facebook, or flipping burgers at a fast-food joint. But eight juniors and seniors in Los Angeles are spending their summer working full time at Caltrans and learning about engineering – and they’re getting paid to do it.

The students are part of the Summer High School Internship Program, sponsored by the Los Angeles Department of Public Works and the Los Angeles Unified School District. This is the third year that District 7 has participated in the program, which is offered in conjunction with the American Council of Engineering Companies’ (ACEC) California Student Outreach Program (CalSOP). Four hundred students applied for 93 slots this year, eight of which are with District 7. The remaining 85 positions are with City of Los Angeles engineering units and ACEC member firms.

“There are too few young people choosing to pursue civil engineering,” said Senior Transportation Engineer Ralph Wong, the program coordinator at Caltrans. “There is a need to develop interest and commitment among our young people to address the infrastructure needs of future generations.”

The six-week internship program is designed to do just that by providing students with exposure to an engineering work environment, on-the-job experience and enrichment activities. The interns’ salaries are paid by ACEC member firms.

“I didn’t have any knowledge about what Caltrans does until I came here,” said 17-year-old LeeAnn Sanchez, who attends King-Drew High School and is interning in the Survey Records Center. “I thought it was just the people who work by the side of the freeway. Now I have a much greater appreciation for all the work Caltrans does.”

In addition to the Office of Surveys, the summer interns are also working in Design, Construction, Right-of-Way Engineering and Maintenance helping with administrative support functions. They also go on field trips to see engineering facilities in operation and attend special workshops on topics such as bridges, drainage and hydraulic structures, topographic maps, survey equipment, computerized design tools, traffic operations and the Transportation Management Center (TMC).

“The TMC was really cool. It was interesting to see how they run the freeways,” said 18-year-old Construction intern Jesus Rivera, who will attend Cal State Northridge in the fall to study engineering. “I’m learning a lot here.”

To be eligible for the internship program, students must be a junior or senior at a high school in the City of Los Angeles, submit an application and a letter of recommendation, and attend an informational workshop during which they are interviewed by a representative from one of the sponsoring firms or agencies. A committee then selects the strongest candidates for the program.

“We look at academic achievement, volunteer work, course work and vocational aspirations when selecting interns,” said Wong. “But we recognize that some students might not realize they’re interested in engineering, so we take a broad view when looking at backgrounds. An experience like this might be just what a student needs to develop an interest in engineering.”

That certainly has been true for LeeAnn Sanchez. “I didn’t know anything about surveying before,” she said. “Now I’m learning about bearings and photogrammetry and other stuff, and I’m thinking about becoming a land surveyor.”

The Leaning Tower of District 7: Interns Emmanuel Kashimbiri, LeeAnn Sanchez, Victoria Williams and Rachel Harris assess the stability of their coffee-stirrer tower. Senior Transportation Engineer Ralph Wong, the internship program coordinator, reviews a structure design with interns Machen Legardy (left) and Douglas Mills. Senior Bridge Engineer Mike Francis explains some of the finer points of building stable, durable structures to intern Machen Legardy. The Leaning Tower of District 7: Interns Emmanuel Kashimbiri, LeeAnn Sanchez, Victoria Williams and Rachel Harris assess the stability of their coffee-stirrer tower.