Engineering Internships: A Weeks with TxDOT and O’Connell Robertson


For one week in February 2020, all 2021 Juniors interned at different companies around the Austin Area. Each company interested was part of a field related to the three Pathways: Media Technology, Bio Medical, and Engineering. 

Camille Pfister interned at the Texas Department of Transportation: Maintenance Division. She was excited most about getting the opportunity to work in a new environment. She loved the idea that she was able to shadow and work with people who have a real job in the engineering field.


Pavement Forensics Branch: Tuesday February 11th, 2020 

Today we met at the North Austin Branch in the same conference room as yesterday, where we did the office Stretch and Flex- a morning stretch routine they do every morning. After that, we met with Anna, Juan, and Rick, from the Pavement Forensics Branch who explained what they did and what we would be doing that day. For the first section of the day, we went with Rick to the shop and began to look at the equipment used to figure out the structure of the pavement and if anything is wrong with it. We first used the LiDAR (Light Distance And Ranging) to take a 360 image of the shop, which was really cool. They use this to examine a work site and all the pieces of it. The LiDAR uses a laser to take pictures from each angle, creating a full image. Then, we marked a grid on the floor and used the 2.6 Gigahertz Antenna along with the Mira to take depth images of the ground. Using lasers and radar, the machine looks deep into the ground to see all the layers of the pavement. This can be used to create a 3D model of the pavement, which they can in turn look at to decide how they should repair it. We also used the Utility Scan Multi Channel Pushcart to take similar images, but over a larger footprint. While the handheld devices can be a pain to do more than a few feet, the pushcart can be used for a larger distance. After that, we met with Juan at the GDR truck (Ground Penetrating Radar) and saw how it can be used to take images like the pushcart and handheld does, but in a much larger scope. This truck can drive down a stretch of highway and, without disrupting traffic, take a radar image of the structure of the pavement. Then, we walked over to the FWD truck (Falling Weight Deflectomator). FWD data is primarily used to estimate pavement structural capacity for overlay design and to determine if a pavement is being overloaded. After we learned how each truck worked, we went inside with Rick to look at how those look on the monitor and how they use that data to understand the pavement quality. Then we broke for lunch, and again got an hour, which was really nice. After lunch, we finished our conversation with Rick about the images we took with the LiDAR. This was the coolest thing we did, getting to see a full in color image taken by a laser. We watched a few videos about some of the software they use and how the data is transferred to the real world. This wasn’t very interesting, as they videos were stilted and filled with lingo that I didn’t fully understand. At the end of the day, Anna came in and we got a lesson in Pavement design and how they analyze the traffic information and road details to figure out the best solution for fixing and building a new road. My favorite part of today was after our lesson in Pavement design from Anna, we got to talk with her and hear some real stories about what it is like to be a civil engineer in the city of Austin. It was cool and made the whole experience seem more real. Tomorrow we will be going to the Riverside Branch and I am not 100% sure what we will be doing, but I am sure it will be different and interesting.


Safety Rest Area Branch: Wednesday February 12th, 2020 

Today we met at the Riverside Branch on the 5th floor. We met with Khoa and Harrison who explained what they did and how it worked. We learned about Safety Rest Areas, an important staple of our state’s highways. We learned about the important steps they take, not only in constructing these buildings, but in designing them and fixing the roads around us to be safer. We talked about driver fatigue and how that can be super dangerous on the road, causing accidents and damages. The Safety Rest Areas were built to convince drivers to stop and take a break every 2 hours or 100 miles. This was really interesting, because I hadn’t thought about the dangers of driving while sleepy much before. After we learned about that, we got to dive out to Salado, TX, and see an actual rest area and see how they had taken the landscape and culture of the town and incorporated it into the rest area. In this particular one, it resembled a water mill, as that is a huge part of the town. After we looked at the details of the shelter, the floor, the windows, and the storm shelter, we met with Betsy, the landscaper in charge of that area’s landscape. With her, we traveled to the site of the actual water will and saw how the rest area resembled it. After that adventure, we went out for lunch at The Shed, a nice tavern in the town, where I got a Meat Lover’s Pizza. It was delicious. After lunch, we went to the museum nearby and saw the Scottish history of the town. That was pretty cool. After the museum we went back to the rest area and took one more look around, before finally heading back to the office. Once in the office, we looked over some blueprints and design sheets of previous and upcoming rest areas. This was really cool, as they were all very extensive and detailed. At the end of the day, we had about 30 minutes to work on our presentation, which was very helpful. Today was a good day, my favorite part was getting to leave the office and go out into the real world, seeing how these designs come to life and are thought through with such detail. The only thing that would have improved this day is getting to do more. Today was a very “see” day, and we didn’t get to do much, only got to see stuff. While this was really interesting, I wish there were more hands on stuff. Tomorrow we will be meeting with Alana and we will be doing some new, exciting things!


Contracts and MMS Support Branch: Thursday February 13th, 2020 

Today we met at the Riverside Branch on the 5th floor. We met with Alanna Bettis, who interviewed us, along with Mark and Vincent, who took us into a conference room and explained what they did. We learned about the Contracts and MMS Support branch, which works closely with other branches to monitor the roads and decide what needs to be done. After getting a quick explanation, we went to the Austin Branch to meet with Jamie, who took us to see a milling operation, which is when they have to repave a section of the highway. In this particular case, the work that they had done a few weeks ago had been wrecked by the rain, so they had to redo it. They made the land smooth so the machine could come in and seal it properly. After that, we drove to a toll booth, and saw how they used to do things, versus how they do things now, with technology. That was really cool, because I got to stand where the actual toll booths are. After that, we drove along the highway and saw where a wall began to move, causing cracks in the highway. After sealing the cracks, they began to monitor the wall, measuring its movement. It has not moved since. After that, we went to a maintenance office and saw all of their equipment and what they use it for. Finally, we drove to a barbecue restaurant in Taylor, Texas for lunch. I had a pulled pork sandwich and it was amazing. After lunch, we went back to the North Branch and returned to Riverside from there. At Riverside, we met up with Alanna once more and her, Vincent, and Jorge from Bridge Division gave a presentation on safety measures, crash testing, and the management of maintenance. This was really awesome because we got to see actual crash test video, and look at the careful design that goes into creating the many safety features you see on the road. Today was really cool. We got to go into the field which felt really good, and we got to learn how they deliberately design the many things that keep us safe. The only thing that would have made this day better is getting to see an actual crash test, but it got moved to tomorrow, which made it not work out, however the presentation was really cool, and sometimes things happen, and you just gotta roll with it.


Jennifer Lopez interned at O’Connell Robertson, an architecture firm. In the firm, there are several branches such as interior design, engineering, and architecture. She was able to learn how each of these branches plays a role in designing a building. 

Monday, February 10

At the beginning of the day, it was a bit of a struggle to find the offices and the security at the front desk didn’t know much either because he said it was his second day. It probably only took us less than 10 minutes to find our place. First, we were able to listen to a meeting that the marketing team set up about creating new relationships with new clients. Then when the meeting was over we met Jessica, who was very kind and showed us our cubicle and it’s really nice to have our own space. Later, Jessica told us about our project, which was to create a flyer regarding the construction at our school. We then had a meeting regarding the design of the school and they helped us understand the layout better. After that, we had time to work on it and explore InDesign. We got to explore and play around with it, because we didn’t have much experience with it. We had lunch with the Principal of the company. When we came back we were able to start designing our flyer and Eliud and I were able to pull a rough draft together. After that, we had our last meeting of the day with other women who were architects, marketing and interior designers. They talked about their college experience and how they got where they are which was very motivational for me especially because I would really like to be an architect in the future. 


Tuesday, February 11

We started off by working on our flyers for our projects and presentation. Later, we had a meeting with Paige and she told us her experience and how she got to O Connell. She also showed us some tasks she had to do that were required in her position.  After the meeting with her, she took us to our school construction site and we were able to see Itzel who was interning with Rogers O’Brien and we all had pizza together for lunch. They later showed us 3D virtual models of the school, when it was finally all done. It was very interesting to see how big and modern our school will turn too. After that, we went back to our office and we worked some more on our flyer. 


Wednesday February 12

Today we worked on our online presentation for Friday and then we went into a meeting with Jenna. In the meeting, they discussed a school in Comal ISD that will soon be built. They talked about a library with no walls and how it would be the heart of the school. After that, they drew on the floor plan to come up with a design for it. Later, Amy took us to Menchaca Elementary, which was really cool because they just finished building their new school, and demolishing their old one- something we will soon experience. After that, we went back to the offices and had a meeting with Kim and she told us about how engineering comes into place when building a school or any other building. There were different branches such as plumbing, mechanical and electrical engineering. It was interesting to see how all the light fixtures will be arranged in our new school.