DukEngage Internship in New Orleans

This article is part of Summer Stories, a special, online issue of Dukengineer Magazine, in which students wrote about their experiences in the Summer of 2007 during their time away from Duke.

by Kristen Bova, BME ‘08

bova.jpgAfter spending most of my second semester junior year going to information sessions, submitting resumes through e-recruiting, and going to first round interviews, it was the beginning of April, and I was still not sure what I was doing over the summer. I remember being jealous of my friends in Trinity who already had job offers, even if they did have to work eighty hours a week in a frantic office.

I was beginning to get discouraged, when one day I happened to see an ad for DukeEngage New Orleans in the Chronicle. The opportunity seemed to be everything I was looking for: an engineering internship, an exciting new location, and, even better, an opportunity to really leave an impact on a community. I immediately e-mailed Professor David Schaad, and after completing a few forms, I was on my way to New Orleans, La.

My internship in New Orleans was through the city's Department of Public Works. I interned along with fellow Pratt student, Andy Winslow. Our first few weeks in Public Works consisted of our own independent project. Together, we measured the radius of curvature and slope of nearly every sidewalk ramp in the French Quarter. We then performed an analysis to determine if the current ramps met The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance standards. Most of them did not. The city would use this information in the next few months when they began reconstruction on the ramps.

After two weeks, our French Quarter project came to an end, and we were placed on a new project working with Disaster Relief Consultants (DRC), a consulting company the city had hired to assess road damage from Hurricane Katrina, among other projects. Andy and I were excited about this new assignment because we finally had a chance both to see some direct damage from the hurricane and to help acquire important relief money for the city. Most of our days from then on were spent systematically driving down the streets of New Orleans, marking exact spots of edge cracking, corrugation, sidewalk cracks, missing curbs, and pavement scarring.

My partner in the company, Alan Wardlaw, was heading this initial damage identification process. I worked with Alan on organizing field teams, sorting the information the teams had gathered, and preparing the information in a comprehensive manner that would be easy for FEMA to understand. The initial road damage assessment was very rewarding in that I got to participate in the six week project from beginning to end. I learned a lot from the employees I worked with at DRC, and at the end of the summer they encouraged me to come back and work for them after I graduate. Upon completion of the damage identification project, Andy and I got several mentions in the New Orleans newspaper. To date, FEMA has used the information obtained by DRC to allocate between $2 million and $4 million to the city. DRC is expecting that number to reach about $32 million in total.

It is rare in life when one’s expectations are met by the reality of a situation. My experience with DukeEngage NOLA far surpassed any expectations I had had going into the program. I left New Orleans having met 17 new vibrant and dynamic students from Duke, all of whom I now consider my best friends. In New Orleans, I gained knowledge of effective business practices with DRC, knowledge of ineffective business practices from the workings of the NOLA government, an overwhelming sense of gratification, and an immense pride in Duke University. I believe I learned more about my own passions and priorities in those two months than I have in the past twenty-one years of my life. For anyone who considers college a process of self-discovery and wants to experience everything Duke has to offer, I strongly encourage you not to leave Duke without participating in DukeEngage.