Internships give students real-world experience in transportation

MnDOT intern Ryan Mwangi standing in a snooper beneath a bridge with a river far below.
MnDOT intern Ryan Mwangi used a snooper to inspect a bridge high above the Mississippi River.

Gaining hands-on work experience? Check. Exploring a potential career path? Check. Developing skills? Check. Thanks to transportation-related internships with CTS partners MnDOT and Ramsey County, a group of current college students had the opportunity to expand their professional horizons this summer.

University of Minnesota sophomore Ryan Mwangi put his civil engineering studies to good use by helping MnDOT with bridge inspections during his internship. “One of the best projects I worked on was bridge 9350 over the Mississippi River. We had to use a snooper (a specialty under-bridge access vehicle), and it was an exhilarating experience since we were 80 to 100 feet high,” he says.

“The bridge is quite big, so I was able to identify a lot of the things I had seen in training modules—which improved my understanding of what I should be looking for on real-world structures,” Mwangi says. He cited this as just one example of something he learned on the job that he would not have had an opportunity to learn in school.

Tristan Karls, a U of M senior majoring in civil engineering, also worked for MnDOT this summer as an assistant bridge inspector. “Every day I went into the field and did routine inspections by checking all of the bridge components and recording any deficiencies,” he says.

Karls says the best part of his internship experience was “working with a team, because I got to hear different perspectives and make new connections.”

MnDOT intern Tristan Karls inspecting a bridge wall while traffic drives by
MnDOT intern Tristan Karls performed a routine inspection of a bridge.

Mwangi and Karls were 2 of 24 interns who participated in MnDOT’s Civil Engineering Student Worker Program, now in its 11th year. Just more than half of the interns were University of Minnesota students, with 7 from Duluth and 6 from the Twin Cities campus.

UMD senior civil engineering major Paige Schmidt put her skills to use at MnDOT’s Detroit Lakes office. “I partnered with all sorts of departments such as design, predesign, hydraulics, traffic, construction, and materials,” she says. “Almost every week I got to experience something new, which helped me figure out exactly what fields I’d like to be in.”

Schmidt notes that the people she worked with really made her experience worthwhile. “My colleagues gave me great advice, whether it was about what they’ve learned over the years in their jobs or just wisdom about life,” she says. “This internship has given me more than textbooks alone ever could.”

Kaitlyn Hanson, a University of Minnesota sophomore majoring in civil engineering, worked with the team in MnDOT’s Marshall office. Her primary focus was Trunk Highway 68 in southwestern Minnesota, though the project got a later start than planned because of utility delays.

Despite this, Hanson made good use of her time and conducted other surveys in the meantime. “I got more educated on the entire construction process in general,” she says. “The most helpful experience I had this summer was getting to see plans come to life and what that actually looked like versus how I thought it would be.”

In its fifth year, Ramsey County’s All-Abilities Transportation Network Internship Program employed three Masters of Urban Planning students from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Gustave Stewart worked with the county on a variety of transportation planning projects. “I got to perform analysis on crash trends and present my findings to city and county staff. Using GIS, I also mapped and updated multimodal infrastructure within the county,” he says. “As part of the effort to create safer streets, I helped perform speed samples on county roads with bike lanes. And I supported some of our transit team’s work on large-scale, ongoing public transit projects.”

Stewart hopes to help make our communities more environmentally sustainable, healthy, and equitable—and he cites his internship as vital experience toward that career goal.

Ramsey County intern Carmel San Juan and her team members sitting at a meeting table
Ramsey County intern Carmel San Juan (front right, in the green shirt) sat with the Community and Economic Development team she worked with over the summer, pictured after their annual summit.

Ramsey County’s Community and Economic Development department welcomed Carmel San Juan to its housing team, for which she evaluated the residential rehabilitation deferred loan program. “An average day consisted of data collection and digitization of files to assess the program and prepare for its relaunch later this year,” she says.

San Juan says she really enjoyed learning about the county’s work in making affordable housing more accessible to its residents. “I want to work within the intersections of planning and public health, so seeing different aspects of planning at the county level has been really beneficial to my career journey,” she says.

Daniel Murphy worked with Ramsey County’s Public Works Program Delivery department. “The majority of my work involved using ArcGIS [a mapping software] in some capacity to help make streets safer,” he says, “but I also had the opportunity to sit in on meetings for both the Purple Line BRT and the Riverview Streetcar.”

Murphy cites the chance to sit in on such high-level meetings about future transit projects as the most valuable experience. “The level of exposure and on-the-job training I received as an intern was truly invaluable to my educational and professional goals,” he says. “It was a total privilege to intern with the county, and I consider myself very lucky to have been given this opportunity.”


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Michael McCarthy