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.