For my STEP signature project, I chose to accept an engineering internship with Building Control Integrators. During my time with BCI, I worked closely with the engineering department where I helped develop and edit graphics for heating, ventilation, air and cooling systems.
The reason I took this particular internship with BCI was to explore whether engineering was the correct path that I wanted to take for my future career. I was at a point in my college career where I was questioning whether engineering was truly the right path for me. This internship provided the opportunity for me to gain practical experience in a mechanical engineering environment, as well as a better understanding of what my future as an engineer would be like.
One of my greatest fears about entering into the engineering field is that I, as a woman, would be a minority in the field. The engineering field is dominated by male workers and therefore I believed that it would be harder for me to gain the respect of my coworkers. In many ways, my fears were confirmed through my internship at BCI. I was part of a five-man team and worked alongside another male intern and under a male supervisor. I perceived the other intern as being more accepted in the beginning weeks of our internship. He didn’t have to prove himself the way that I did, simply because he was male. However, while many of my apprehensions were confirmed, throughout the course of my internship, I gained a new self-confidence in myself. Each time I successfully completed a project or generated impressive work, my confidence in myself grew. My team slowly began to respect me and I felt more included in the team. At the end of my internship, I feel that I gained more important experience than my fellow male intern. I was challenged in more ways than him, simply because I had to prove myself as a woman, and therefore I know how to deal with more difficult situations. I can now walk into a new engineering position knowing the obstacles I will be up against and will not question my intelligence, abilities, or whether I deserve to be there.
As a graphical intern, my primary responsibility was to assist with the creation of air and water flow graphics and from how they were being designed, installed, and commissioned. My learning curve of these tactics helped drastically in gaining my engineering self-confidence. In addition to the general concepts that I had learned in school, I was expected to quickly learn different components about building automation systems and how to use new software systems. Being taught by my supervisor, I was able to quickly learn the new information and was able to easily transfer my new knowledge towards successful completion of my projects. Being praised by my supervisor helped boost my self-confidence and encouraged me to continue learning more.
However, while my supervisor contributed to my engineering confidence, he always taught me valuable lessons through criticism. Over the course of the summer, I felt that I had gone above and beyond what had been asked of me. I had gone out of my way to learn new tactics, had spent extra hours double checking my fellow intern’s work, and had asked questions that aided in my learning experience. But in my final evaluation, my supervisor’s comments were not what I expected. He felt that I had shied away from difficult tasks and didn’t challenge myself enough. In addition, he mentioned how he had observed me spending too much time worrying what other’s thought and trying to fit in with a specific group of people. While his comments didn’t detract from the excellent work I had done, he provided me with excellent reflection room. All of his comments were correct and stemmed from my initial apprehensions of the engineering field. As a first time intern, many of those comments stemmed from the fact that I was nervous about my first ‘real’ job. But his comments also made me conscious of what my actions tend towards. Having been able to identify it, I now will be able to enter into new job situations and strive to not do the same thing. Ultimately, my supervisor’s comments helped me to realize that fitting in perfectly with the rest of your team is not the most important thing. Being apt in your field and striving for excellence is much more important and should be my primary focus.
Finally, my interactions with my fellow intern contributed to my summer transformation. As I discussed previously, he seemed to fit in with our team easier and quicker than I did. While this was initially off-putting, what was even more frustrating for me was his poor work-ethic. He would streak through projects, seemingly less interested in being correct as with being quick. Because of this tendency, I felt uncomfortable submitting work to my supervisor that was filled with mistakes and so would feel obligated to spend hours revising and redoing his work while he sat back doing nothing. However, while this situation was extremely frustrating at the time, it taught me very valuable lessons about workplace relationships. I am not always going to get along with my coworkers, and many of them, I will not like. This, I believe, is a fact that everyone encounters. However, I believe that a phenomenal characteristic that I learned from this internship was developing a mindset where I could put aside my personal frustrations and find ways to work more effectively and efficiently.
My internship at BCI, which was extremely challenging and daunting at times, has contributed immensely to my professional future. In addition to learning valuable hands-on knowledge and techniques, it taught me about myself. I now know my behavioral tendencies and my intellectual abilities were confirmed. The most valuable thing that this internship gave me was confidence – in myself as an engineer and as a professional. Looking forward to the future, I know that I will be happy and successful in the field of engineering. I will no longer be intimidated by being in a male dominated field or doubt whether or not I can succeed there. In fact, I believe that I have potential to perform just as well, if not better, than many of my future male counterparts.
I am extremely thankful to the STEP program for allowing me to pursue this opportunity with BCI and I will never allow the lessons I learned this past summer to go to waste. Without this experience, I very well could have made it through all of my college career and graduated with no idea what to do with the rest of my life. Having the opportunity to be fully immersed in a summer internship was a great validation for the path my professional career is traveling.