“So what would you like to know?”
This is the question I was asked repeatedly over a two week period. Finalizing my junior year at Ashley Hall, I spent two weeks at the Army Corps of Engineers interning with the purpose of learning more about the engineering field and sparking an interest for a potential career. What did I want to know? I knew that civil engineers built roads, buildings, and parking lots, but that’s about all I could say. Much to my excitement, I was immersed into a constant learning atmosphere of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Engineering creates opportunity for the individual and it fosters opportunity for the greater community. It is a field with a purpose. Each day, I experienced a new and exciting project focused on an individual goal. The most rewarding aspect of it all was witnessing the systematic drawings done by the engineers being translated into the field and implemented on a real life scale.
For instance, I got to see with my own eyes a dredge in Charleston Harbor. It was an immense machine with a large turbine-shaped saw, connected to a large pipeline depositing the sea floor of the harbor onto the Clouter Creek disposal site. For me, not only was I able to enjoy an afternoon out on the harbor, I was able to learn about the dredging process. We met the soil on the other end of the pipeline and witnessed a massive pool of mud collecting below the gushing exit of the pipe. On the other side of Clouter Creek was this same type of mud, but several months into the drying stage and being ditched by backhoes to allow more water to drain. I had the chance to touch the different sediments and to see the various layers of soil. Dredging is an intricate process, but it works.
To be an engineer, it is necessary to collaborate well with contractors, the public, other scientists and engineers, and any animal species that could be affected by a certain project. A dam to the average citizen is a blocked water passage. The dam at St. Stephen altered my point of view. Instead of a water passage that could only open and close, I saw an involved mathematical machine with the ability to manage water flow in the Lowcountry. Every specialty of engineering was involved in the dam. Someone had to design the organized maze of wires. Someone had to design and maintain the turbines. Someone had to account for the nearly one million fish, which passed through the locks and are still able to navigate their habitat on account of the functioning fish lift.
My experience at the Corps of Engineers was unique and enlightening. I realized the importance of my potential career field over the past couple of weeks. Taking everything I learned, from defining a wetland to building a veterans’ center for post-traumatic stress disorder, it is now my job to show the next generation entering the work force that engineering is a field in scientific design that has a critical and rewarding impact. And now, I can ask those kids the same question – “So what would you like to know?”