Alice Pacheco was a BSMP student in the Fall 2013 cohort. She studies Civil Engineering at Universidade de Brasília. She completed her academic program at Cornell University and completed her Academic Training as an intern with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York City.
How did you find your AT?
I was pretty lucky actually because a friend of mine, Hugo, is a civil engineering major and also participated in the program. He did his academic program at Cornell and interned at the MTA. I met him on a Facebook group for the Call 117 students. He wasn’t from that call, but he was very active on the group page. I saw that he was at Cornell, which was my first choice, and started talking to him.
He told me about the internship at the MTA and how he got it. My International Student Advisor had contacted the MTA right after Hugo had finished his AT to say that Cornell could send more interns. Around October, I sent them an email and because I sent an email so early they were able to give me a paid position. In December, I got a confirmation and in March they gave me all of the details. A week before I officially started, I had to come to New York City to do all of the processing.
What projects are you working on at the MTA?
I am currently working on a project in Brooklyn. We are designing a relay room that will be above the train tracks at the Kings Highway station in Brooklyn. A relay room is a room where they put all of the technical stuff, such as electrical materials and machines. The room is 70 by 55 and is 60 feet off the ground. The most challenging thing about the project is the size of it. The U.S. normally works with a load of around 45 PSF (pounds per square foot) and this room is going to have 450 PSF, so ten times the normal PSF. They are reforming everything after Sandy because the structures are really old. We have a book with the drawings of the Kings Highway station from 1915, so we are trying to update the structures.
We are working on everything: the calculations, the drawings, the foundation, the columns, the trusses, and the details. I have been working on this same project since my first day. When I started, the project was in the beginning stages, so I got to see everything from the beginning. I won’t be here when they start to build it, but I did get to experience the design part.
The model for the Kings Highway relay room
What is involved in the design stage of a project and what programs do you use?
During the design stage, we work with finite element programs, such as Tedds and Microstation. Back in Brazil, I worked with AutoCad, but here they use other programs. I also did hand calculations to compare with the models done in the finite element programs and I did all of the floor plan and elevation drawings.
What are some of the most important things you learned?
To see how what we learn is put into practice. Last semester at Cornell, I took a steel class and I am only working with steel here. I am using the same book I used at the university, but in practice. The best part is that everything I do here will actually be built. I will be able to come back in five years and tell people I worked on this, I did the calculations for this.
Can you compare what you thought about Civil Engineering in the beginning of your AT to what you think now, at the end of your AT?
I got the chance to see what we work with, how it is done, how it always has to be updated because the architect wants something. I had to update my calculations ten times because the architects wanted something different. It is not something you do one time and then it is done. You need to be flexible.
Alice pointing to the location of Kings Highway in Brooklyn
How do architects and civil engineers work together on structural projects?
The architects make the model and then we go in and calculate the structure. We see if it is possible to actually build what the architects want and we find a way to build it. We say, “this is possible” or “oh, we can’t build this, but we can try something else.”
How will you use what you learned here when you return to Brazil?
I have always liked structures best and this has reassured me that I want to work in structures. This is my first internship and to start here is a great opportunity.
Is the approach to Civil Engineering different in Brazil and the U.S.?
I have only done two years in Brazil, so I never had specific classes of building rules. Here I took steel and we follow the American Institute of Steel book, so when I go back I will have to see how they compare. The basic math and mechanics classes are the same. I think only when I become specialized will it be different.
A book from 1915 containing the drawing plans of the Kings Highway station.
What advice can you give to other BSMP students to help them in their AT search?
Talk to people who studied at your U.S. university before you and see where they did their AT. For engineering, it can be hard to get an internship, but all of the people who came to Cornell in the same cohort as I did got one. You have to create a network and use the opportunities that were put in place for you by someone else. You should also apply really early and start working on your resume and cover letter as soon as you arrive.
Do you think networking is common with BSMP students?
At Cornell it was. My advisors, Julie and Tim, were the best. They helped people get their internships. Hugo got the internship with their help, so the contacts were already in place. My direct link to the MTA was through my advisors at Cornell.
How can BSMP students have a fulfilling AT?
I think you have to go after things. Always ask questions. Ask why. If you don’t understand, ask. Don’t do something without asking before if you are unsure.
To connect with Alice on LinkedIn, click here.