By Jennifer Aldridge
WIESBADEN, Germany — Europe is filled with backpacking college students traveling from one country to the next at this time of year. Before entering the real world, they embark on nomadic adventures in new cities, with new people, trekking as far as the Eurail pass will permit. But United States Military Academy at West Point Cadets Alex Cansler and Timothy Ko traveled to Europe this summer wearing construction boots rather than backpacks, ready to apply classroom lessons to real work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District.
Cansler, a rising West Point junior, and Ko, a rising senior, took part in the school's Academic Individual Advanced Development program. The program encourages students to seek opportunities to work for civilian or military organizations for up to four weeks each summer. Majoring in Civil Engineering and Engineering Management respectively, Cansler and Ko sought placement with USACE.
Cansler spent three weeks shadowing Jessica Reath, a district project engineer managing the Schinnen Child Youth and School Services Center project at U.S. Army Garrison Benelux in Brunssum, the Netherlands.
The internship was an opportunity to gain familiarity with how a job site runs, Cansler said.
"Before this, I had no idea how my major applied in the world," said Cansler. "It's always best to be able to see what you are learning -- I took construction management in the classroom but I did not learn what I am learning here."
Cansler explained that being on a job site allowed him to visualize the project, even though it was not yet complete. In a short time, he assisted Reath by preparing contract modification documents, researching contractor requests for information, inspecting mechanical installation and observing worker compliance with safety regulations.
According to Cansler's USACE mentor Reath, he came in and immediately contributed to the office.
"Alex exhibited enthusiasm for learning and his efforts were greatly appreciated," Reath said.
The Schinnen CYSSC project is complicated and unique because the facility will serve the needs of multiple installations in the tri-border (Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands) community. Coincidentally, Cansler's father, Joseph Cansler, is the Director of Public Works at USAG Schinnen, a future CYSSC facility user. From his perspective, the internship with the Corps has enabled his son to physically get a feel for construction.
"Construction takes practical experience before being good at it," Joseph Cansler said. "Understanding the timeline of how a project runs, paperwork, sub-contractors and onsite issues is essential."
Shadowing a USACE project engineer provided Cansler with practical experience in the field he intends to pursue in the Army.
"Working on this project with the Corps reaffirms my decisions to go into engineering," Cansler said.
While Cansler finished up his work in the Netherlands, Ko was busy digging into his assignment with USACE in Ramstein, Germany.
Ko worked with a field team managing the construction of an Unmanned Aircraft System Satellite Communications relay facility at Ramstein Air Base. The U.A.S. SATCOM project includes an operations building with space for squadron administration and maintenance functions. In addition, 12 U.A.S. SATCOM relay structural pads and foundations with access roads, utilities and underground connections will be constructed. The facility aims to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver certification upon completion.
Ko worked alongside his mentor Capt. Shai-Lin Ynacay, the resident office project engineer, to gain perspective on what it takes to execute a complex military construction project.
"I am learning how USACE works," Ko said. "Prior to starting this internship I didn't know what the mission was."
Once Ko gained a better understanding of what USACE Europe District does -- provide premier engineering, construction, stability operations, and environmental management products and services for the Army, Air Force and other U.S. government agencies and foreign governments throughout the U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of responsibility -- he was able to work with Ynacay to make sure the small project details were being properly executed.
"Next semester I will take a project management class," Ko said. "I was skeptical if I would use it in the future."
Observing first-hand how USACE manages projects, Ko reassessed his opinion of the importance of project management.
"You have to be out there on the project site ensuring quality is being met yourself," Ko said. "Before this summer, I had no idea how my major applied in the world. Now I do."
Spending the summer on a construction site with an active duty Soldier and learning about her career was an awesome experience, Ko said.
"It opened up another career path for me. I didn't think about joining the Corps of Engineers before I followed Capt. Ynacay," said Ko. "I think working for the Corps would be pretty cool."