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Engineering Company Spawns Integrated Intern Development Program

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From left, interns Jamie Pobre, Nathan Canney and Forell/Elsesser Structural Engineer Steve Marusich at the UCSF Institute for Regeneration Medicine project site.
Photo: Forell/Elsesser Engineers, Inc.
From left, interns Jamie Pobre, Nathan Canney and Forell/Elsesser Structural Engineer Steve Marusich at the UCSF Institute for Regeneration Medicine project site.
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A successful shift to truly integrated project delivery requires starting at the beginning.

That is why a pilot internship program launched last year by San Francisco-based structural engineering company Forell/Elsesser Engineers required student-employees to spend time with the owner, architects, engineers and contractors, moving from company to company to get a well-rounded view of the goals and challenges of each project participant.

“At industry events, we have been talking about this for a long time, but the academic curriculum is still silo-based,” says Simin Naaseh, Forell/Elsesser president and CEO. “If anything, studies are getting more specialized and that doesn’t help with the shared model we are trying to create in the field.”

In spring of 2009, Naaseh recruited three students, two from UC Berkeley and one from Sanford, for the debut of the Integrated Skill Development internship program.

The location for this experiment? The site of a $119 million, 80,000-sq-ft University of California, San Francisco Institute for Regeneration Medicine project, designed by New York architect Rafael Vinoly. The Stem Cell Research facility utilizes a design/build contract, building information modeling and lean construction processes. That made it a perfect training ground. “Experiencing a construction project from the point of view of all the parties will make them more responsive and motivated to find solutions,” Naaseh says.

In addition to working with Forell/Elsesser engineers, students spent time on site with Nova Partners, the owner’s representative, and DPR Construction, Inc., the construction management company.

DPR intern coordinator Jorinne Jackson called the program a win-win.

“The teamwork and understanding of how the engineering and construction industries work hand in hand is a tremendous benefit to the individuals participating and the project teams,” she says.

Students also found the experience helpful.

“This internship experience allowed me to gain a more rounded perspective of the whole development process, from conception through bidding, design, construction and move-in,” says Stanford intern Nathan Canney. “This is useful in seeing myself as a structural engineer as part of a team.”

UC Berkeley intern Xiaoyu He took the long view. “With my professional and educational background in both Architecture and Structural Engineering, the Integrated Skill Development program provided the perfect opportunity for me to learn about construction management and complete my overall journey of the entire building industry.”

Naaseh plans to expand the program next year to include six students from architecture backgrounds in addition to engineering programs to rotate through a number of different companies.

“The most difficult part of the program is the coordination,” Naaseh says. She had to make sure everyone was happy with the interns included in the program. “At some point a training organization might take over management of the program,” she adds hopefully.

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