Students gain hands-on experience in transportation-related internships

MnDOT intern Ryan Mwangi leaning against an old trucck wearing a safety vest
MnDOT intern Ryan Mwangi

The internship was so nice, he did it twice! Last summer, University of Minnesota junior Ryan Mwangi gained experience helping the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) with bridge inspections. This year, he came back and applied his civil engineering studies at the agency’s Office of Traffic Engineering.

Mwangi was one of 19 students who participated in a transportation-related internship with CTS partner MnDOT through the Civil Engineering Student Worker Program, now in its 12th year. Several U of M students participated, including two from Duluth and six from the Twin Cities campus.

“I’ve been working on evaluation projects, which aim to show that certain road treatments are safer than others. The department does this by analyzing crash data before and after the treatment was put up,” Mwangi says. “For me, the most valuable experience has been getting to see how this work can save lives.”

His experience interning in two different areas at MnDOT has also broadened Mwangi’s horizon. “My work this summer has made it a bit harder for me to pick between structural and transportation engineering, but I’m glad it’s helped me consider a different facet of civil engineering!”

Intern wearning a safety vest in the field, holding a scanning gun for testing bridges
MnDOT intern Simon Custis used a lead paint gun to perform testing on bridges.

Simon Custis, a U of M junior studying civil engineering, also got valuable work experience at MnDOT this summer. He worked with the Office of Environmental Stewardship, performing field work and sampling across the state.

“My team’s work has involved a lot of lead paint testing on bridges, and I’ve also performed a ton of water quality tests and done a few noise measurements,” says Custis. “After we take our samples or run our tests at the site, back at the office I’ll record our measurements into a database or prepare samples to be tested and then take them to the lab.”

Custis says the internship has made him think differently about what he wants to study. “My experience has led me to want to pursue more environmentally focused electives within my major and maybe look more into environmental engineering or environmental science as a field,” he says.

CTS also partnered with Ramsey County again this year to provide internship opportunities to college students. In its sixth year, the county’s Economic Growth and Community Investment Planning Internship Program employed three students this summer.

U of M junior Ben Lu worked with the county’s Community and Economic Development department. He put his economics studies to good use by focusing his efforts on the Energy Conservation Deferred Loan Program, which helps low- to middle-income households weatherize their homes (by installing new insulation or updating furnaces, for example).

Lu says the thing he enjoyed most about his internship was learning about the county government’s role in residents’ lives. “I’m blown away by my mentors’ commitment to addressing the county’s housing needs and taking the steps to remedy inequality in the market,” he says. “It makes me feel like the work I do actually makes an impact.”

Ramsey County interns and staff posing beneath a mural
Left to right: Ramsey County interns Marcus Hansen and Leif Klarqvist and Ramsey County staff Carmel San Juan and Peiyu Phua took a tour of Metro Transit in Lowertown, Saint Paul.

Gustavus Adolphus senior Marcus Hansen focused on inventorying pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure with the county’s Public Works and Parks & Recreation departments. He verified the locations of benches throughout and along the county’s parks and trails and collected attributes to help accurately categorize and map the county’s bicycle infrastructure.

“One thing I learned was how complex planning and county-level government is,” Hansen says. “Counties need to be great partners with cities and the state, and it requires a lot of coordination and planning to get everyone on the same page and do things right.” 

Leif Klarqvist, a junior at Drake University, worked on projects related to traffic and pedestrian safety—from helping to map roadway crash and condition attributes to inventorying all of the county’s pedestrian ramps for compliance with project plans and the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

“This is my first experience in a more professional role,” Klarqvist says. “I gathered a lot of technical skills, communication skills, and [the ability to see] the big picture. The experience helped me develop and understand the dedication and focus required in these roles." 

—Maggie Biever, CTS editor


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