Tandon Student Discovers Life as an Engineer

Civil Engineering internship and mentorship programs provide real world experience

Student intern site visit

Carmen Chen (second from left) visited construction sites on a weekly basis during her internship with the NYU Office of Construction Management. Photo credit: Kenny Lee

On a sunny day in August, Carmen Chen spent her morning busily archiving files and entering construction cost data into spreadsheets. Next up was her weekly lunch with coworkers, followed by a trip to a new construction site to survey the project’s progress.

While these may sound like the daily tasks of a seasoned project manager, this was the high school graduate’s first job, and her first introduction to life as an engineer.

Before beginning her freshman year at NYU Tandon, Carmen interned this summer at the NYU Office of Construction Management (OCM), shadowing mentors who specialize in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, architecture, and construction management, and who oversee NYU’s many construction projects.

From visiting construction sites to attending project meetings, Carmen discovered the real-life world of engineering that exists outside the classroom. Each week, she explained, she shadowed a different mentor and works alongside them on their current projects. “This past week, I worked with one employee who handles elevator contracts, and another week I helped a project manager oversee the installation of an accessible door on an NYU building,” she said. “This internship really exposed me to both the large scale and small scale projects, and how much the smaller projects impact the department and university as a whole.”

Carmen’s journey to NYU began a year ago, when the then Brooklyn Technical High School senior enrolled in the ACE Mentor Program of Greater New York. With its goal of introducing young students to the many facets of engineering, the ACE Mentor program pairs high school teams with industry mentors from prominent companies in construction, architecture, and design. Upon joining Team 12, which is hosted by the NYU Tandon Department of Civil and Urban Engineering and holds its meetings on the Brooklyn campus, Carmen found herself instantly immersed in an exciting academic and engineering culture as she and her fellow ACE students were guided by mentors through a mock design project for an NYU building.

“I worked on the architecture team, where we designed a ‘mock-up’ for the 181 Mercer Street project — an actual, future NYU space. We imagined it as a multipurpose theater and were able to visit the construction site,” Chen said. “Now during my internship at OCM, I’ve seen how much it’s changed since we first visited.”

Chen was one of the lucky ACE participants who applied and was selected for the paid summer internship program, which was created a few years back by ACE mentor and director of NYU OCM, Kenny Lee. “This internship is ideal for aspiring professionals in the building industry because NYU designs, constructs, and operates all of its buildings,” Lee explained. “Since we’re a university, the students are exposed to college life on campus. I wish I had this kind of opportunity when I was in high school!”

Chen sat in on project meetings, gaining a first-hand look into all the working parts of an engineering or construction firm, and traveled weekly to construction sites to monitor progress. OCM also hosts weekly “Lunch & Learns” for the interns and its employees to discover more about its various responsibilities, from sustainability in construction and engineering, to asbestos containment, to health and safety in the workplace. “They were fun and engaging, and I learned a lot from these presentations because everyone at OCM loves what they do,” Chen said.

Carmen Chen (center) and her fellow interns learned much from NYU OCM colleagues Kenny Lee, Matthew Esmaelzada, and Zack Korenstein, as well as ACE Team 12 leader and Tandon professor Lawrence Chiarelli.


Carmen Chen (center) and her fellow interns learned much from NYU OCM colleagues Kenny Lee, Matthew Esmaelzada, and Zack Korenstein, as well as ACE Team 12 leader and Tandon professor Lawrence Chiarelli.

“The ACE Mentor program is a great learning experience, as it gives participants a chance to see real-life work,” explained Professor Lawrence Chiarelli of Civil and Urban Engineering at NYU Tandon, and Team 12 leader. “ACE introduces high schoolers to various aspects of architecture, construction, and engineering. They have a chance to experience what a mechanical, electrical, or civil engineer or a construction manager actually does on a daily basis.”

Chen credits the ACE Mentor Program with not only forging a path to this internship, but also being instrumental in her decision to apply to and attend NYU Tandon. “When I was here at Tandon for ACE, I was able to see the MakerSpace develop, and I had this feeling, that this is where I belong,” shared Chen, who plans to study mechanical engineering during her time at Tandon and is continuing her OCM internship this fall through a work-study position. “Even though it’s a big university, I’ve been able to see the behind-the-scenes of what happens here, and I feel so much closer to the school.”

“We really hope to show our interns the possibilities that exist for engineering students, and by sharing what we do here at OCM, we hope to inspire future engineers, contractors, and designers,” Lee said.

From ACE, to Tandon, and Beyond

As both an ACE Mentor participant and NYU Tandon student, Chen is in good company. Past ACE participants, like Joanne Lee and Julie-Ann Evans, went on to excel at NYU Tandon, and in their respective engineering careers.

“In high school, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an engineer, or if I’d be passionate about it. I didn’t know enough about what an engineer does on a daily basis,” explained Lee, a mechanical engineering student at Tandon and recent intern with the New York City Department of Design and Construction. (Lee was also a Team 12 participant.) “The ACE program provided a foundation for me, and encouraged me to pursue engineering and construction, and after my internship with the Office of Construction Management, I realized how much I enjoy working with a team towards creating spaces for people to use.”

During the ACE Mentor program, Evans participated on a team sponsored by Skanska — the global construction company — who encouraged her to apply for their summer internship program after her first year at Tandon. “After that first summer of my internship, I switched my major from civil to construction management,” Evans said, who graduated this past May with a both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Construction Management. “I continued internships at Skanska during my summer and winter breaks, and officially became a full-time employee as of August.” Evans’ future plans? Obtain her Certified Construction Manager (CCM) credentials, and become an ACE mentor to the future generations of engineers.

Camila Ryder
Graduate School of Arts and Science
Master of Arts in English Literature, Class of 2018