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Posted 8/5/2015

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By Sannie Rivas
Charleston District

Coming all the way from Paraguay to the United States to be an exchange student at Ashley Hall, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks as an intern at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District. Known for their innovative ideas and creativity, and their use of science and mathematics to solve problems, engineers can create a lot of different and amazing things to help the world. Each day at the Corps was a new experience. I got the opportunity to meet with different people, some of them engineers, and hear them talk about their jobs, goals, and experiences. I also spent a lot of time outside the office, where I could witness and learn even more about all the projects currently going on.

During my first week, we went to Folly Beach to look at the sand fence project. It consists of v-shaped wooden fences designed to capture wind-blown sand to create new dunes and help with the erosion issues on the island. These dunes serve as wave protection for the houses near the water when a storm comes. The project was in different phases of completion, so I saw the sections where the fences were newer and dunes smaller, as well as where the dunes were really high and with some vegetation already growing. This was something new for me because my country does not have a coast, so I have not seen work done on a beach before.

I also spent a day on-board the SV Evans, the Charleston District’s surveying vessel, where the crew showed me how they use multi-beam sonar technology. That day, we used it to gather data on the depth of Shem Creek, which was dredged two years ago. With this technology and computer software to read the gathered data, the District can make sure that the depth is maintained at the same level so that boats can know where they can and cannot go through. Although I had heard about sonar technology before, I had not seen it in-person.

The day I enjoyed the most was my last day, where I went outside with a female civil engineer. I preferred being outside of the office because I could see with my own eyes how things work. I got to go out on the boat to see the dredging ship working. The machine digs the floor of the harbor under the water and removes the material at the bottom. It then pumps the material through a pipe connected to the disposal area. After a period of time, the sand and the mud will settle and the clean water will drain back to the creek.

I always had the idea that civil engineers only built bridges, parking lots, or powerhouses. After spending time with them, I learned that not only do they build things, but they also have environmental projects, like Polk Swamp where they will restore the degraded ecosystem structure. When the projects are finished, they have to go back and make sure that the project is taken care of and the appropriate maintenance is done.

My brother’s experience in the field of engineering at the University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil is one of the things that has encouraged me to follow in his steps. He will soon become a mechanical engineer and has always been a role model for me. My hope for the future is to have the same opportunity as he has to study in a foreign country. Now, after spending these days at the Charleston District speaking with engineers who patiently explained to me everything about what they enjoy of their jobs, the difficulties of them, and, most important of all, the impact they make in the world, I can say that this rewarding experience has helped me make the final decision of becoming an engineer.