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!