Michael Becker ’14, Parsons Brinckerhoff

Michael-BeckerFirst and foremost, let me suggest that you shadow in an industry distinct from what you already study or plan to do in the future; I fear there is not much use in following a doctor around all day if you already have a perfect MCAT score and know that you will one day go on to practice medicine. Try something new; if you have even the slightest interest in anything even tangentially related to the field, you ought to apply. I, for example, worked with Princeton alumna Eve Glazer ’06 at Parsons Brinckerhoff, a construction management and civil engineering firm that is deeply involved in some of the largest infrastructure and building projects on Earth, from Manhattan’s Second Avenue Subway to the massive Shanghai Tower. Unlike the other student shadowing Eve with me, I am by no means a civil engineer. Rather, as a Comparative Politics major with certificates in East Asian and South Asian Studies, I was most interested in the political efforts that facilitate these construction projects as well as the sociological effects they have on their host communities. It was a risk, but I learned about all that and more through Eve’s instruction.

On our first day, we were told to meet at the field officeBecker 2 for the Second Avenue line on the Upper East Side. Although their office was not in some glamorous skyscraper downtown, it was easy to see that it was the nucleus of activity in the excavation of the tunnel and construction of the subway line. Eve taught us quite a bit about the tunnel boring machines, blasting technology, green initiatives, and the enormous amount of time, labor, and material necessary in the excavation. We later spoke with Phil Rice, another Princeton alumnus, in Eve’s field office. As a civil engineer, he spoke proudly of the experiences he has had since graduation in helping to design, manage, and create vital infrastructure around the country. He urged that we Princeton students look into similar careers in construction, as the declining investment in aging infrastructure has had an adverse effect on our economy at large. Before leaving that day we were lucky enough to go deep down into one of the excavation shafts that will one day become an entryway for the subway line. It was definitely impressive to see the workers almost 100 feet down, excavating directly beneath enormous high-rises at street level above.

On our second day, we were fortunate enough to visit the Metropolitan Transportation Authority downtown near Wall Street. There, Eve introduced us to the MTA project engineer for the new line, Nitin Patel. He seemed to know each and every detail about the project’s plans as well as an extensive history of the New York public transportation system; it was great to see someone so passionate about his career and contribution. We also met with Bill Goodrich, program executive at the MTA for the Second Avenue Subway project. He spoke quite a bit about the bidding procedure for designers, managers, and contractors that is necessary for any public works project, as well as the complicated process of drumming up funds for the construction. Later on in the afternoon, we sat in on a meeting concerning local residents’ grievances about noisy construction as well as one about the latest progress in excavation. Between these meetings and earlier explanations from Mr. Goodrich and Mr. Sankar, I was beginning to grasp the very political nature of these projects in their funding, advocacy, and interaction with the local community alike.

On the third, final, and best day of our Princeternship, we visited the global headquarters of Parsons Brinckerhoff to meet with the company’s COO, Greg Kelly. As one of the most senior authorities in the company, he had quite a lot to say about the importance of both technically and politically minded individuals in Parsons Brinckerhoff around the world far outside the realm of the Second Avenue Subway. I also got the chance to meet with Stuart Sunshine, a man who had previously worked in the mayor’s office in San Francisco but now manages lobbying, advocacy, and electoral initiatives in the Pacific region for Parsons Brinckerhoff.Becker 1 He is one of a growing number of company employees who are specially assigned to streamline PB interaction with local governments and communities to make for more efficient construction periods; I found his job most interesting of all. Afterwards we went back uptown to finally visit the excavation site for the Second Avenue Subway tunnel. Although the visit two days earlier was interesting, this far exceeded my expectations. I have never before seen such a marvel of engineering as that enormous machinery toiling away deep within the tunnel beneath bustling NYC.

Overall, my Princeternship was an incredible experience. There were plenty of occasions in which I felt like a fish out of water; I only briefly began to grasp the foreign jargon of the civil engineers that spoke to us. And yet, our host Eve was generous enough to arrange for meetings with a wide array of PB and MTA representatives who could speak to the diverse responsibilities and aspects of their infrastructure projects. The week showed me that I would love to pursue employment in this kind of industry; more generally though, it was great to see that people can still work and thrive outside of the consulting firms and investment banks that we all seem so obsessed with. I am deeply thankful to Eve and all of her associates at Parsons Brinckerhoff for the time and energy that they poured into this to make sure that both Ellen and I were able to learn as much as possible within our distinct interests. It did not disappoint, and I certainly hope you look into pursuing a Princeternship in a similarly novel field.