An email from NYUAD's Career Development Center during the spring 2012 semester informed me that I'd been awarded a summer internship — I was to spend two months in Abu Dhabi working for AECOM, a global provider of professional technical and management support services in markets including transportation, facilities, environmental, energy, water, and government.
Having shared my interests in the transportation and structural aspects of civil engineering with Andrew Schmidt, director of AECOM's transportation sector, who encouraged me to try out both in the coming weeks, I was put to work on my very first day. After a brief orientation (requiring a lot of signatures!) and introductions with the transportation team, I began reading, listening to lectures, taking notes, and making reports. It was like getting back to school with a more practical aspect to it, but as my first week came to an end, I had gained sufficient knowledge of transportation engineering to be assigned hands-on work.
The following week began with the editing of reports that were to be sent to the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport. It wasn't until I had finalized the reports that I found out that they were proposals for major projects in Abu Dhabi as well as the other emirates of the UAE, and that AECOM was in competition against other companies for these projects. This was the first hint that I was doing serious work. There would be no fooling around!
As I settled into the internship, my assignments became more and more challenging. During my third week, I began designing and editing maps of sectors of Abu Dhabi where roads were to be built. The work was not very difficult, but the precision by which the roads were being designed on the map made it intense and time consuming. By the end of the week, I had completed the design for the roads and pinpointed the site locations where developments were planned.
The following week I was surprised by an email from my project manager, asking me to create a Transportation Master Plan for a site and complete it by the end of the next day. With a little help from previous reports, which I used as samples for my plan template, I started going through the project details. Time started flying and before I knew it, I had only two hours left in the day…and I'd only written the introduction. Arriving at work early the next morning, I got down to business. With complete focus and concentration, I, in just three hours, completed an 11-page report, and by 3pm, after a little reviewing and editing, I sent it to my manager. By the end of the day, I had revised and completed the final report with 15 minutes to spare. Just enough time for some coffee and conversations with fellow internship members and traffic engineers.
I had not only impressed myself, but my supervisor too. For the rest of the week I was able to explore the other departments of AECOM and learn about some of the work that was being done. This allowed me to make a new friend in the geotechnical department who explained to me some of his work. The next day, he shared career advice with me, and we discussed geotechnical engineering and how the ground under our feet works for four hours!
My fifth week was supposed to be my last in the transportation sector, but my growing interest in transportation and traffic engineering led me to stay for the duration of the internship. With this decision, I was exposed to even more of the industry. I was asked to evaluate the trips generated in a specific sector of the UAE, which involved assessing the number of vehicles travelling between the sector and outside of the sector. This data allows a transportation engineer to make predictions of how congested the area might be and informs the design based on trip distribution and types of transportation, such as private cars, public transit, bicycles, etc., to determine whether a road is efficient enough. I was also added to the employee list for a new project in Saudi Arabia, for which I assisted with the four steps of transportation modelling and the finalization of the project details. However, before I was able to finish, my time with AECOM had come to an end. With just one day left, I thanked my colleagues and said goodbye. It was difficult, but I left with the hope that I would return.
Looking back, the long hours of work seemed short once my workload began to increase. The excitement and intensity grew, and the fun increased as time passed. One thing I realized during the internship was that what we study in university is not crucial for the knowledge of the actual work, but it is vital for the analytical and thinking skills we develop. Also, it's not only the time spent at work that counts, but the hours you spend with colleagues. There are jobs where individual work is of course critical, but when it comes to transportation engineering, teamwork is a skill that one quickly develops and utilizes on a daily basis. It might have been hard to spend Ramadan alone in Abu Dhabi, but what I learned and experienced this summer will stay with me forever, and I will always cherish this opportunity of working with a company that I hope to be a part of after graduation.