University of Minnesota: Interns harness career opportunities to bridge pandemic challenges

University of Minnesota senior Charles Sisterman discovered engineering well into his adulthood, roaming the cobblestone streets of Copenhagen. Cornerstones of buildings dating back centuries inspired his awe of the place he then called home. “I want to do something that is lasting and that contributes to society, like how these engineers, how these people did it,” he recalls thinking. “Engineering never even crossed my mind until I was living in Denmark.”

Sisterman’s epiphany led him back to school and family in the Twin Cities seven years ago—and finally, last year, to the civil engineering program at the U of M. This past summer, following a tip from a bridge inspector neighbor, he landed a Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) internship. He was responsible for identifying, documenting, and reporting critical and non-critical bridge deficiencies.

“This internship has been very hands-on, and I have learned a tremendous amount of information on bridge deficiencies,” he says. “We were able to inspect a lot of the bridges that we drive [on] on a day-to-day basis. You just get to witness that immediate impact you have on the community that you wouldn’t otherwise even think about.”

Other University students also found ways this past summer to gain valuable experience through internships with University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies (CTS) partners MnDOT and Ramsey County.

This year, MnDOT hired 17 interns. Eight of the students attend the U of M—six from the Twin Cities campus and two from U of M Duluth.

Students were assigned to a variety of MnDOT offices, including bridge maintenance, asset management, traffic engineering, traffic work zones, materials, design, construction, surveys, and right-of-way.

U of M Duluth civil engineering grad student Amanda McCann, in her second summer with MnDOT, and U of M Duluth civil engineering senior Dan LeMay teamed up with Sisterman on the MnDOT Metro Bridge Inspections Unit. Among the highlights of their internship was participating in nighttime inspections of vehicle damage on I-94 to the Lowry Hill Tunnel and the 25th Avenue South bridge.

“It’s certainly on-the-job training, and it’s stuff you likely won’t find in a textbook anywhere,” LeMay says. “I often found myself challenged by the amount of data that is collected about a bridge.”

Civil engineering senior Zoe Jeske, in her second year with MnDOT, also has been working with the MnDOT Bridge Office, primarily with the load ratings unit.

“One of my favorite things I’ve worked on this summer is a bridge by Augsburg University that was hit in May. I was able to assist with the inspection and run the load ratings for the damaged bridge,” she says. “I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of good, well-rounded exposure.”

And it’s not just engineering students. Diana Flores Castillo, a senior majoring in geography at the U of M, worked with the program delivery division of Ramsey County Public Works. Her job includes the use of geographic information system (GIS) software, which she learned in school.

“I plan to work as a GIS professional within the transportation sector once I graduate next year,” she says. “This internship is solidifying my interest in what I am currently studying in school. Plus, this type of experience affirms my dedication and passion for GIS and transportation.”