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USACE Chicago District summer hires a ‘win-win’ for students, organization

USACE Chicago District
Published Aug. 17, 2020
Summer hires Dayla Dillon and Joshua Jacobs pose with a longnose gar while electrofishing along the Kankakee River.

Summer hires Dayla Dillon and Joshua Jacobs pose with a longnose gar while electrofishing along the Kankakee River.

Paul Belate, summer hire, at the Chicago Harbor Lock talking to a co-captain of a tour boat.

Paul Belate, summer hire, at the Chicago Harbor Lock talking to a co-captain of a tour boat.

Lucas Beasley, summer hire, speaks to another intern about battery backup at the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal’s electric fish barrier site.

Lucas Beasley, summer hire, speaks to another intern about battery backup at the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal’s electric fish barrier site.

Ryan Day, summer hire, on a site visit at the Indiana Harbor confined disposal facility in East Chicago, Indiana.

Ryan Day, summer hire, on a site visit at the Indiana Harbor confined disposal facility in East Chicago, Indiana.

By Vanessa Villarreal, USACE Chicago District Public Affairs Office

Every day while walking to elementary school, Ryan Day said he remembers seeing a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) habitat restoration project sign along the Little Calumet River in Indiana. It wasn’t until years later, while speaking to a Corps rep at his university’s career fair, that he found out exactly what USACE does. And now, this civil engineering student is one of several summer hires getting firsthand work experience at the Chicago District.

Day, a junior at Purdue University in West Lafayette majoring in civil engineering and political science, is working at the district’s Calumet Area Office in Indiana. He’s currently conducting quality assurance (QA) as a construction representative for a water main replacement project in Hobart, Indiana. And he said he sees himself working at the Corps for a long time.

“I see myself with a receding hairline, using civil and environmental engineering to work with and for the people,” Day said. “I’m excited to be working in my community.”

Nihad Halilovic, civil engineer, is Day's sponsor. In addition to the project in Hobart, he’s been introduced to the Cady Marsh Emergency Repair project in Griffith – both in active construction status. Halilovic said that Day is now able to independently inspect a contractor's performance on site and prepare QA reports. Additionally, the office was able to provide him basic training on the Corps’ Resident Management System, used for construction contracts, and get him actively involved in progress meetings for an upcoming project in Crestwood, Illinois.

“Ryan (Day) is a very energetic individual with a strong desire to learn more about our daily operations,” Halilovic said. “We definitely benefit with his presence and look forward to seeing him again as a team member once he completes his education.”

Paul Belate, a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), is working at the Chicago Harbor Lock. He’s pursuing his master’s degree in structural engineering and is expected to graduate in May 2021. He found out about USACE at a UIC career fair last fall.

Right now, he’s learning how to open and close the lock gates, along with some ground work.

“My goal is to become a professional engineer and lead a design team in some capacity,” he said. “I’m a fast learner and motivated worker. I am also adept at solving problems and I believe my ability to think quickly will make me a good asset for this team.”

Dayla Dillon is entering her second year at UIC as a biological sciences major. It was during a presentation by John Belcik, fish biologist, in one of her biology classes that she found out about the Corps and its Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal electric fish barrier project. Now, as a summer hire, she’s working with Belcik on that very same project.

“That was the first time I heard about the fish barrier, although I have heard about Asian carp in the past,” she said. “I thought it sounded really interesting and I was inspired to apply for the summer internship to work with the project.”

Right now, Dillon and the Planning team are working on electrofishing and collecting data about fish populations in the Chicago-area waterways. In the future, she said she sees herself finished with college and working as a biologist “helping with environmental projects.”

Jacob Webb is a student at Northwestern University studying civil engineering and music composition, with a minor in architecture.

He met a Corps representative at his university’s career fair last winter and now he works with the district’s Global Positioning System team doing survey work and helping with designs in MicroStation, a CAD software platform. Recently he helped with survey work at the Calumet Harbor breakwater.

Webb said his goal is to work as an architect or design-focused engineer.

Lucas Beasley is a computer engineering summer trainee in the Geotechnical Section. He’s entering his sophomore year in the fall as a computer science major at UIC.

He found out about the Corps through his professor Joe Schulenberg, a senior geotechnical engineer at the district.

“I took a civil engineering gen-ed class called 'Infrastructure in the United States' with Professor Schulenberg,” Beasley said. “I realized I had a strong interest in applying computer science, my major, to civil and mechanical engineering projects because of that class and his teaching ability.”

Beasley is currently assisting with data collection for the district’s pipeline corrosion monitors near the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal electric fish barrier site.

“Overall, I enjoy my work and being able to contribute computer science knowledge to my team's output,” he said. “It has been really gratifying. I'm happy to be working with the Corps this summer.”

Joshua Jacobs first heard about the Corps from his sister, Meghan, a civil engineer at the district. He’s majoring in plant biology at the University of Michigan and will be a senior in the fall.

He’s currently electrofishing with the Planning team along the Chicago-area waterways.

“I have never been electrofishing before this internship,” he said. “And it has been an awesome experience so far.”

Luis Herrera, a senior majoring in civil engineering at Iowa State University, works in the Geotechnical Section. He found out about this position at a career fair at his school.

He’s currently analyzing borehole data from a levee project in Port Arthur. He explained that the project is focused on repairs and raises to the Port Arthur Canal storm management system.

“During prior storm events, parts of the levee embankment system had slope failures,” Herrera said. “So in order to mitigate any future flood risks, we are going to reconstruct and raise the system one section at a time.”

He said, 10 years from now, he sees himself working with USACE again or in the Navy as a civil engineer.

Margarita Ramirez-Rodriguez is entering her fourth year as an architectural engineering student at the Illinois Institute of Technology. She found out about the Corps at a job fair on campus last fall and now works in the Technical Design Section.

To date, she’s completed design reviews for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs building renovations, ensuring that the design provided is in line with the International Building Codes. She has also reviewed DoD’s United Facilities Criteria to ensure that we are meeting these requirements for a fish barrier enclosure project.

“In the future, I see myself graduated with my master's degree, and using my knowledge to help my community,” Rodriguez said.

Faye Leffler, Technical Design Section chief and Rodriguez’s supervisor, said summer hires are not only an investment for USACE but an important part in developing future engineers. She also added that, from the student perspective, it is important to get related work experience in the field of study, which is important to have on a resume.

“They gain hands-on experiences in the development of design drawings and specifications, applications of design software, and working with teams in a professional setting,” Leffler said. “They build on their interpersonal skills, which is not typically taught in schools. This will help prepare the students for work expectations. Although college coursework in engineering gives students the technical foundation needed, it’s the actual work experience that allows students to apply that coursework in real life scenarios. Having summer hires is a win-win for the student and the organization.”