Kristin Goehl ’16, MITRE

Kristin-GoehlOn March 18, I had the pleasure of shadowing Dr. Sandeep Mulgund *94 at the MITRE Corporation with fellow Princetern Thomas Zdyrski.  Dr. Mulgund works as a combat scientist for MITRE, a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) that supports federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Once we had arrived at the facility and passed through security, Dr. Mulgund met with us in his office.  While there we discussed career paths in science/engineering, as well as how to prepare for a job in a company like MITRE.  We also learned about how MITRE and FFRDCs are different from typical defense contractors.

For me, this conversation was one of the most important parts of the day.  Dr. Mulgund stressed how an engineering education prepares you for the workforce by teaching you how to think – how to solve problems and to present solutions.   While he valued his Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering degree, Dr. Mulgund told us how after receiving his PhD he soon found himself in a very different area of work, eventually ending up at MITRE working on military command and control systems.  He also emphasized the importance of networking and its role in finding (and getting) the right job after school.

One topic that really struck me was how FFRDCs like MITRE are run.  FFRDCs do not competitively bid like typical defense contractors and try to sell their products to the government.  Rather, they are sponsored by the government to do planning, research and development.  MITRE’s motto, “Working in the Public Interest “ is remarkably similar to Princeton’s own unofficial motto, “In the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.”  The corporation is not-for-profit, and is able to work for the long-term benefit of the United States.

After our lengthy discussion, Dr. Mulgund gave us a general tour of the MITRE campus.  One area we were shown was the ACME lab, which brings together sponsors and MITRE experts to brainstorm, work through problems, and discuss solutions using a variety of simple visual aids.  The lab encourages the many participants in a project to collaborate openly and on the same level.

Also during the tour, Thomas and I were brought to one of the R&D labs of the MITRE facility to see some demonstrations of current projects MITRE is working on.  The first demonstration used a computer program to simulate decision-making and to guide someone through a series of decisions by giving them the options they have as well as relevant information/data to the decision they have to make.  Next, we saw how MITRE is working to improve communication between different emergency services using technology in computers, phones and tablets.  Lastly, we were shown how an Xbox Kinect is being used to put a presenter on the screen of their presentation (similar to a weatherman) and how they can interact with their presentation.  This project was also expanded to allow a second person in a completely different location to also simultaneously interact with the presentation.  During our time in the lab, Thomas and I had the pleasure of meeting James Rayson ’81, who spoke briefly to us about his time at Princeton in the electrical engineering/computer science department, handing us copies of an ancient Princeton computer punch card he kept from his days as an undergraduate.

After discussing more about the field of engineering and MITRE over lunch, we were introduced to Dr. George Providakes, chief engineer of MITRE’s Command and Control Center (C2C).  Dr. Providakes was very interested in how Thomas and I became involved in science and engineering, and encouraged us to continue to pursue our interest in technology, perhaps even to the point of working at a FFRDC in the future.  In the tradition of military challenge coins and also in commemoration of our experience, Dr. Providakes gave each of us a C2C coin.  In addition we received MITRE coins from Dr. Mulgund, providing a solid start to our own military coin collection, a collection I very much hope to expand in the future.

This Princeternship was a fantastic experience.   I believe that it was very valuable to me as I consider my career options for the future as an engineer.  It has helped me reexamine the various courses I want to take while at Princeton, as well as what I am looking for in a career.  I would like to thank Mr. Rayson and Dr. Providakes for being willing to take time out of their schedules to speak with Thomas and me.  I would especially like to thank Dr. Mulgund for being such a great mentor and for hosting me.  At the end of the day, I was very encouraged and was given much to think about.

Ellen Tung ’14, Parsons Brinckerhoff

Ellen-TungDay 1
On the morning of January 28th, I experienced the craziest commute on the uptown 6 train in New York City. After battling my way through crowds and running three blocks east, I finally met my host, Eve Glazer ’06, and fellow Princetern, Michael Becker, at the Second Avenue Subway (SAS) field office. It was a blistering cold day; Eve welcomed us with hot coffee and introduced us to the SAS team, which included Phil Rice ’77. We were then given an informal presentation of the SAS where we learned about the history of the project (it started in 1929!), the reasons for a new subway line, and its current construction plans. Obviously, with my first-hand experience of the subway congestion, I was – and still am – an avid supporter of the project.

Next, we spent some time talking to Phil, the Construction Manager of the project. While the only Princeton professor we both knew was Professor Billington, we talked about how Phil started in a design office and eventually ended up in construction. Since Michael is a Politics major, we also talked about the politics behind major works of infrastructure – something I had never given much thought to.  After talking to Phil, we put on some cool construction gear (by that I mean muck boots, fluorescent vests, gloves, glasses, and hardhats), had some lunch, and went to the Skanska field office to meet Tom Rourke, the Project Manager for Skanska/Traylor Joint Venture. I learned a lot about construction from Tom, including the differences between an office engineer and a field engineer, the value of graduate education in construction management, and the distinct roles of Parsons Brinckerhoff and Skanska/Traylor JV in the SAS project. Finally, we had a brief tour of the construction sites (though we didn’t go down to the “cavern”) and attended a weekly field staff meeting.

Day 2
This time, I didn’t need to shove any strangers to get to MTA headquarters. We specifically visited MTA Capital Construction, where we talked to Bill Goodrich, the Program Executive of the SAS project. Like Phil, Bill also started his engineering career in design and later moved into construction management. He was also full of advice about graduate school, and told us about his experience with both private and public engineering projects. Bill was especially familiar with the political side of the Second Avenue Subway and explained how the project was started. After meeting Bill, we visited AECOM’s office, which was a short walk away. There we met Jay Sankar, the Associate Vice President of AECOM. Jay taught us all about the design side of the SAS project. We inspected drawings and learned how designers and contractors made their bids in large projects.

After a quick lunch, the rest of the day was spent in meetings. The first meeting was a general progress meeting, led by Phil. All aspects of the construction were covered, from scheduling to safety to community outreach. Next was the monthly quality meeting, during which the team talked about whether or not the work was done according to the contract. The last meeting was preparation for the upcoming community workshop. These workshops provide an opportunity for members of the community to ask questions or speak up about any pressing issues. A booklet of questions from the last workshop was available, and I noticed that if I were a resident on Second Avenue I would probably make a lot of the same noise and traffic complaints. However, being on the other side of the fence was an interesting experience, and I learned that planning and constructing projects are not easy at all. Besides the technical work, a lot of effort has to be made to ensure that the surrounding community is satisfied and safe.

Day 3
The last day of the Princeternship was the only day where I had to wear a business casual outfit because we visited the Parsons Brinckerhoff headquarters. We started the day by meeting Greg Kelly, the Global Chief Operating Officer. We talked about trends in civil engineering and infrastructure, graduate education, and the political side of engineering. He must have thought I was stressed about what to do after college, because he assured me that no matter which path I take in civil engineering, “it will be okay!” Eve then introduced me to Debra Moolin, a Senior Supervising Engineer. We chatted about the design side of Parsons Brinckerhoff, and I learned a lot about different delivery methods. Our last meeting at headquarters was with Judy Cooper, who is in charge of Global Corporate Communications at Parsons Brinckerhoff. She showed us a variety of company advertisements, and it was very interesting to see the marketing side of an engineering firm.

In the afternoon, we finally visited the “cavern.” We had had our safety briefing the day before, so we were able to have a quick, guided tour of the subway station that was currently being tunneled. At first I was pretty intimidated by the large machinery and enormous piles of rocks. However, my eyes finally adjusted to the dim lighting and I was able to take in my surroundings. The whole scene was absolutely incredible – I was standing in a gigantic tunnel under New York City! As Eve puts it, I have seen what most New Yorkers would never see. This Princeternship has been a great way to spend three days. I now have a better understanding about construction and the experience has confirmed my plans of working in the industry. I have also received so much invaluable advice that I will definitely remember as I make my post-graduation plans. Thank you Michael for showing me the political side of engineering; thank you to everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to talk to me; and most importantly, thank you Eve for volunteering to be a host and giving me great advice throughout this Princeternship!

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.

Adrienne Fung ’14, AECOM

Adrienne-FungMy Princeternship at the AECOM water management offices was tremendously inspiring. I was able to hear from many engineers and gain a clear idea of engineering consulting and the water industry. After a day of shadowing consultants, attending phone conferences, and learning about their projects, I definitely plan on pursuing a career in water engineering.

On a cold January morning, I took NJ Transit and the SEPTA to the AECOM offices in Philadelphia. It was a great pleasure to meet my host, Jacob Rainwater ’01, and I immediately forgot all about how cold it had been as he warmly welcomed me. He gave me a tour around the offices, and told me about his academic and career path, along with valuable pieces of advice. His supervisor, Manny Parada, dropped by to meet me and to update him on a project. Afterwards, Jacob made a call to a client to ask for some missing information. As it was nearing ten o’clock, I joined Manny in a conference call regarding a major wastewater treatment plant in Philadelphia. It was exciting to see a project engineer in action – interacting with the developer and contractor, explaining why certain decisions were made, and discussing them with the other participants.

About an hour into the meeting, I was free to join Jacob and other company employees for lunch. We had a mini celebration for someone’s birthday at the nearby food court, and during lunch, I conversed with Jacob and his coworkers and learned a little about each of their backgrounds. When we returned to the office, I met with other consultants to learn about their individual responsibilities. One was a chemical engineer, and he told me about his transition to water engineering. Another recently earned her Master’s Degree in civil engineering and is now preparing for the Professional Engineer License exam. It was fascinating to hear their perspectives on the dynamics of the water management industry. Afterwards, I attended a meeting about a set of sketches proposed by the design team at the AECOM office in Massachusetts. This was followed by a phone conference with the same designers to determine what needed to be improved and what was to stay the same.

When this meeting ended, they presented me with my own task! One of their current projects involves altering a pipe system Fung 1at an airport. There was a large book of drawings of the pipe network and zoom-ups of individual pipe designs. I was to locate a specific pipe they needed information about. After flipping back and forth, however, and also asking Jacob, I determined that the drawing had not been provided by the client, and so they would have to be contacted. This was my most valuable experience of the day because I was taking an actual part in the consulting process. It gave me a chance to investigate a design book and analyze the various figures. I also learned about the decision-making process of why that given pipe was so important.

It was now past 5:00, and Jacob had to catch the train home soon. He walked me to the station, and I simply could not believe that only a day had gone by, yet I had learned so much. I have been strongly motivated to work on water projects in the future. Jacob and his fellow engineering consultants all do such great work to improve the lives of people in a safe and sustainable way. It was an honor to spend the day with them, and I am sincerely grateful to Jacob for being my host. He arranged for me to join the phone conferences and speak with other consultants, and most importantly, he inspired me to pursue a career where I can nurture my passion for engineering and work with others to better address the needs of society and the environment.