At the top of her game

Engineering major Natalie Wilcox on Walt Whitman Bridge

Civil engineering major Natalie Wilcox at work on the Walt Whitman Bridge during a summer internship

Photo courtesy of Natalie Wilcox

For civil engineering major Natalie Wilcox, the summer of 2020 turned out to be much more productive and exciting than she could have imagined.

“Given that New York was the epicenter of the pandemic in March and April, I was almost completely certain my internship would be cancelled,” said Wilcox, a Long Island native, who had been looking forward to a 12-week internship with Langan, a New York City civil and environmental engineering firm.

Wilcox kept in touch with Langan’s human resources representative during the spring, and learned in May that she would, in fact, have an internship but it would be for two weeks.

That information gave her time to reach out to the Haughland Group, a Long Island construction company where she had interned the previous summer. “Fortunately, my supervisor welcomed me back with open arms,” she said.

So, thanks to her determination and enthusiasm, Wilcox secured back-to-back internships in the middle of a pandemic.

Not one internship but two

Wilcox’s two weeks with Langan offered her intense training in AutoCAD, a computer-aided design and drafting software application, and in federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. She also visited many active construction sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

“The most exciting thing I experienced was a massive excavation project at the American Museum of Natural History,” said Wilcox. “I learned about shallow and deep foundation design, and I witnessed the soil and rock sub-grade.

“Everything I learned in my geotechnical engineering lecture came rushing back to me. Since the excavation was 25 feet below the streets of New York, I could clearly see the different layers of soil and rock and how the bedrock in that area of Manhattan was valley-like in nature. That was something I would have never imagined.”

At the center of the action

In her internship with the Haughland Group, Wilcox was assigned to a taxiway paving project at LaGuardia Airport and a construction job at the Walt Whitman Bridge, among other projects.

“I worked a 36-hour job over a weekend at LaGuardia,” said Wilcox. “There was a ton of planning that went into it. I sat in on the meetings that preceded the operation. I joined the team during the first overnight shift and assisted the superintendent with the trucking schedule for the milling and paving operation and organized the timesheets and sign-in sheets.”

The work at the Walt Whitman Bridge also took place in the evening, but that wasn’t going to stop Wilcox, who didn’t want to miss anything this surprising summer offered. “My boss asked if I wanted to go out at night to witness the installation of steel girders,” she said. “I enjoy being out in the field no matter what time of day it is, so I jumped at the chance. I was able to watch steel construction take place for the first time.

Natalie Wilcox’s summer of 2020 not only offered her great learning experiences. It provided her with two different perspectives of civil engineering.

“I’m so grateful that Langan was willing to take me on and that I was able to return to Haugland Group for a second summer,” she said. “I learned so much about construction management and the role of a project engineer in construction and geotechnical engineering. I also made a lot of connections in construction and engineering design.”