From textbooks to trailers: Plano-Coudon internships prepare students for careers
After years of studying technical and theoretical aspects of civil engineering and project management, Rishabh Jain suddenly found himself juggling submittals, RFIs, materials tracking, and communications with subcontractors and client representatives on a $13-million project to create a new Animal Care and Rescue Center for the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
Those duties were part of Jain’s summer internship with Plano-Coudon Construction.
“This is hands-on experience with things I have only learned about in class,” said Jain, a civil engineer and graduate student in project management at the University of Maryland College Park. “Learning about something in class and implementing it in the field is really different, so it is really good that I am getting my hands dirty.”
Every year, Plano-Coudon attends multiple university job fairs to recruit engineering and project management students for its summer internship program. During the eight- to 10-week program, project managers mentor the students and provide them with experience in managing project documents, closing out punch lists, developing estimates, handling communications with clients and subs, and working with teams in construction site trailers, said Cliff Milstead, Project Executive.
“I spent some of my summer doing project management, some of it doing estimates, some of it helping out superintendents. I got exposure to the whole business,” said Michael Junkin, who completed two summer internships with Plano-Coudon. When he graduated from the University of Delaware in 2015 with a mechanical engineering degree, Plano-Coudon hired Junkin as a project engineer and recently promoted him to assistant project manager.
The company’s internship program provides more than practical education about engineering and construction management, Junkin said. It also fuels passion for the industry through a combination of interesting assignments, real-world responsibilities and opportunities to have impact.
For example, Junkin, who is a devoted Marylander and a huge Orioles fan, was delighted that his internship duties included traveling around the city to job sites, including one at Under Armour, and “running bids to cool locations like the warehouse behind right field at Camden Yards.” Those duties also involved representing Plano-Coudon at contract-award event at the University of Maryland.
“It was a closed-bid competition but they opened the bids in front of us so I was able to stand in the room and represent Plano-Coudon among the other contractors,” Junkin said. “We didn’t win the project, but I was able to see where the numbers came in and report back to the estimators that this is how our numbers compared to other contractors. It was also an interesting way to see how competitive the construction industry is.”
“At Plano-Coudon, they really give you responsibility,” Jain said. “If a company gives me a responsibility, I will put all my focus into that job. I am much more passionate if I have some important work to do and I feel like I am making a difference in a project.”
The summer program generates benefits for Plano-Coudon too, said Founder Brett Plano. It creates opportunities to assess engineers and other construction professionals as they prepare for their careers, and sometimes recruit talented graduates into permanent positions within the company.
The program also ensures that interns “are much further along the spectrum of understanding the industry when they graduate,” Plano said. “They have worked on projects and learned how to apply some of the theory they learn in class to the realities of a construction project. So when they graduate and start their careers, they hit the ground running.”
The industry, he added, has improved the quality of internship programs. For example, one summer Plano-Coudon partnered with two engineering companies to offer joint internships to several students. By working two to three weeks with each company, students got exposure to structural engineering, mechanical/electrical engineering and construction.
“This industry,” Plano said, “has really figured out how to make internships work for everyone – the students, the companies and the industry as a whole.”