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Two women engineers giving thumbs up from on top of a crane tower.
October 11, 2022

Field engineering internship brings concepts to life for CEM student Elyse Miramontes

Written By: Amanda Thuss

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Internships and co-ops are often the first opportunity students have to apply what they are studying in class to the real word. They provide important hands-on experience, especially for future civil, geological, and environmental engineers. This past summer, CEE junior Elyse Miramontes completed her first internship in the Construction Engineering and Management industry. From networking opportunities to “yard-rodeos,” her experience had a little bit of everything.

Tell us a little about your internship—what was your role and what things did you do?

Engineers doing a pre-pour inspection of rebar before concrete is poured.
CEE alumn Blake Meyers (lower left) and Elyse Miramontes (lower right) complete a pre-pour inspection of rebar before concrete is poured at the new Embassy Suites by Hilton in downtown Madison.

I recently completed a 12-week field engineering internship with M. A. Mortenson’s Milwaukee Operating Group. I was blessed to be a part of the JDS Embassy Suites project team, which is managing the construction of a nine-story Hilton-Embassy Suites Hotel on the square in Madison. My core responsibilities during the summer included reviewing submittals, completing several different field inspections, and assisting with a variety of stage-specific tasks. The project is currently in the early construction stages, including concrete foundation pours, which allowed me to utilize my civil engineering background. Along with learning how to complete my core responsibilities, I learned so much about the construction industry in general. I realized through all of this that even experienced professionals in this industry can learn something new every day.

Why did you choose Mortenson?

Through the extensive company research and many interviews that I did last fall, Mortenson’s atmosphere and core values caught my eye. The atmosphere that Mortenson creates for their employees plays a huge role in making work enjoyable and creates a sense of inclusion. Being a woman in construction is not common and any company that embraces that diversity and fosters a sense of belonging stands apart from the rest. The project team I was assigned to included some of the most amazing mentors who truly became my biggest cheerleaders. They always made me feel like a full-time employee, rather than a temporary intern. Along with the emphasis on inclusion, Mortenson also prioritizes safety for their field workers. This was important to me because I have many close friends and family in the construction industry, and it is great to know there are companies in the industry that emphasize their employees coming home every night. Construction is one of the most dangerous industries to work in and the responsibility of working safely is typically placed on the craft workers themselves. At Mortenson, that priority is repositioned, and the responsibility is shared equally across everyone in the office and the field.

What did you enjoy about the experience?

I enjoyed this experience because of the little things you learn hands-on that you can’t learn in a classroom. Although school is important, I believe the field is where an engineer learns the most. In construction specifically, asking field workers questions and observing the actual work being done is an extremely valuable experience. Luckily, the project team I was assigned to encouraged and allowed me to be out in the field as much as possible and I learned so much! An internship/co-op credit is required to earn a degree in the Construction Engineering and Management (CEM) program at UW-Madison, but I can’t encourage this experience enough for everyone! Internships are one of the greatest experiences to help you succeed in the real world after graduation. UW-Madison, and the College of Engineering specifically, provide many resources to obtain an internship, some of which helped me take on this role with Mortenson, like the resume workshop and the career fair!

The sun rises over concrete columns on the construction site of a future hotel.
The sun rises over concrete columns on the construction site of the future Embassy Suites hotel in downtown Madison.

What challenges did you face and how did you work through them?

I would say the biggest challenge I had to face was working with the title of “intern.” From reaching out to several subcontractors for clarification or coordination, right off the bat, I noticed a lack of responsiveness. Some individuals were exceptionally responsive and were happy to help me learn, but others seemed unresponsive, and I felt that this may be due to the fact that I was an intern on the project. I worked through this by speaking to my mentors, who always reminded me to keep pushing. As I got further into this internship and gained more knowledge, I saw an increase in assistance from these individuals and felt they had started taking me more seriously. I think there is a stigma that interns don’t know much and the work that is given to them is unimportant, which isn’t true, and it helps when your mentors can back you up on the work you are completing. Towards the end of my 12 weeks, I received several encouraging messages from individuals outside of Mortenson recognizing my hard work and determination which solidified my efforts to overcome this challenge.

What did you learn or find interesting?

My favorite topic of discussion during this internship was enclosure. In the current stage of the project, coordinating the enclosure system played a big role in my internship. Whether you are walking around in a big city, or sitting in your apartment, you typically do not think about how a building is designed to control temperature and moisture conditions regardless of what’s happening outside. There is an incredible amount of detail that goes into enclosing a building to keep it protected from the outside weathering elements. Before this internship, I had no idea how much attention-to-detail it takes to do so efficiently, while still maintaining quality. After focusing on enclosure systems during my internship and participating in an “enclosure yard-rodeo,” which provides young engineers the opportunity to learn how these systems are put together in the field through small-scale mockups, my interest was piqued by how much goes into keeping a building insulated, air sealed, and waterproofed. I can’t wait to learn more about enclosure as my time in construction continues, and I am able to see the plans come to life!

Woman on top of a tower crane.
Elyse’s point of view from on top of a tower crane during her internship with Mortenson.

In what ways did this experience support your growth? How does it support your future goals in CEM?

This experience supported my growth personally as I have become more responsible, well-versed in time management, and more confident in taking initiative. I have always been a quiet person, but through this experience and learning more, I now have more confidence in myself. Taking initiative and having the confidence to do so is extremely important in the construction industry.

In terms of my professional growth, I have more experience with technical communication, expanded my professional network, and developed an entire new skill set. The skills that I have obtained from this experience, both personal and professional, will support my future goals and success both in CEM and at UW because of how much more motivated I am to be in a profession that I love. I now have the confidence to make connections between the field and the classroom and can continue to apply myself in new ways to reach my goals.

What UW-Madison classes of experiences helped prepare you for this role?

Elyse Miramontes on top of a tower crane during her internship with Mortenson.
Elyse grew up around construction and was drawn to the engineering side of it, which brought her to UW-Madison. Now in her junior year, Elyse helps lead the UW Construction Club, while also working for both Mortenson and the CEE Department.

The course that prepared me the most for this role is CEE 498, Construction Project Management. Although it may seem straightforward to choose this course, I truly believe that CEE 498 is the closest you can get to this profession in a classroom because it allows you to apply technical terms and research to real-life situations in the field. Since I was enrolled in this course prior to my first internship, I had picked up on some of the terms and ideas but had not applied them nor really understood what they meant. I think this class provides you with adequate introductory preparation for an internship in construction management and helps make the connection between what we learn on campus and the real world. Professor Hanna does a great job packing in as much information as possible to make an individual successfully strive toward a career in construction management.

What’s next? Tell us about what you’re doing this fall and beyond.

I am extremely excited to have been offered a part-time internship with Mortenson on the Embassy Suites project in Madison that will allow me to continue working for them during the school year! I think most engineers would agree that 12 weeks is a short period of time to learn all that there is in the field. It is impossible to cover all the diverse concepts in construction in 12 weeks because that is often just one small stage of a new project. I am excited to be a part of a different stage and learn more about enclosure, MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing), and finishes (my favorite)! On campus, I am continuing my CEM path as well as continuing my position as a communications assistant for the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department. On top of my busy schedule, I have accepted a position to be the grader for CEE 498 and I am extremely grateful for the course instructors’ confidence in my ability to do so. Outside of school and work, I am the vice president of Construction Club, a professional development club that encourages networking and hands-on experiences in the construction industry. If you have any questions about internships with Mortenson or Construction Club, please do not hesitate to reach out!