September 14, 2023
Internship Reflection Paper | Engineering Intern – Structural
'Taqi' Ahmed Syed Taqiuddin recaps his summer internship experience at H&S
As part of Horner & Shifrin’s 2023 Summer Internship Program, ‘Taqi’ Ahmed Syed Taqiuddin was hired to our structural department. The paper he produced reflecting on his experience is presented, in its entirety, below.
Founded in 1933 by Wesley Horner and Hymen Shifrin, Horner and Shifrin, Inc. is a multidisciplinary professional services firm with the experience and capability to serve a wide variety of clients throughout the United States. From feasibility planning and development, funding application assistance, land survey and 3D scanning, and environmental planning, to engineering design and construction administration, as well as GIS mapping services, H&S has demonstrated innovative solutions for numerous award-winning projects irrespective of project size whilst being recognized in the industry on a state and national level.
Uniquely, H&S is a 100% employee-owned firm with every staff member having their own vested interest in completing work to the satisfaction of clients.
I was employed as an Engineering Intern for the Structural Business Unit at H&S which primarily works on Bridge projects (new and rehab) along with providing engineering design and forensic services for other sub-areas in building structures like water infrastructure and wood-masonry including structural rehabilitation. The involvement of the structural department is substantial with some of the other Business Units (BUs), mainly during rehab or development of the supporting structure for Waterway or Roadways. This scenario allows engineers to work and solve problems of varying nature and conditions ultimately for the betterment of public and private infrastructure.
Hiring eight interns to various business units, most the company ever did yet, the company’s HR department along with the BUs laid out a well-organized pathway for a successful internship experience.
Starting out to welcome all the interns with an Orientation Day with all the business unit leaders of the company to conducting performance reviews during and conclusion of the internship. The experience to work at H&S was nothing less than the best one could hope for.
My arrival to start interning with H&S’s Structural unit came at a time of transition for my current supervisor, Thomas P. Lohman (Tom) to becoming the Business unit leader of structural, replacing Micheal Banashek (Mike) who was elevated to the Executive Vice president of Horner & Shifrin. While Mike gave me a one-on-one orientation to how things go about in the Structural department, Tom went on to become my mentor and supervisor throughout the internship. I was introduced to everyone in the St. Louis, Missouri Office (STLMO) and later in bi-weekly department meeting to the rest of the team working in various locations among the nine-strong offices throughout Illinois and Missouri. I was given several work- shift options earliest starting from 7:00 AM including a lunch break with 8 work hours per day which had flexible timings. This I believe is uncommon in any firm and gives an idea of how the company’s work-culture is employee-centric whilst being employee owned.
A typical workday in the life of a structural engineering intern (Me):
Starting early (6:30 AM): I found accommodation 20 miles from STLMO office in downtown St. Louis and traffic was always an issue at the I-64 route I had to take.
RRWBW (8:30AM): Back at my desk, I would go on to Review my assignments, their progress and Recollect from the notes I kept from the previous day and continued Working on it while sipping on a 24-ounce protein smoothie. Take a lunch Break with my colleagues or continue Work after a short break in my cubicle itself.
Exercise (5:30 PM): Working at H&S had its own perks, access to an employee-only gym, free parking in Union Station, St. Louis and softball matches every Wednesday with the H&S team in the City Engineers and Architects Softball League!
Prior to the start of my internship, I was asked to set-up goals to achieve during the internship among which my main objective was to design a bridge in totality. Towards the end of my internship, I had worked on 7+ projects from Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas working on developing design and plans for foundations, slab drains, decks, and steel girders. Additionally, I had the opportunity to visit sites to inspect damage in precast concrete walls to develop a rehabilitation plan for an MDC regional office and observe box beams and deck assembly for a short span bridge in Tanglewood, MO. Among the assignments allotted to me, one of them was to check the calculations for the centre of gravity, moment of inertia, concrete volume and steel required for an integrated concrete slab cover with steel-grating for an underground transformer. While the nature of calculations was more of fundamental in nature, the project was challenging as it involved interpreting steel drawings, calculating distances appropriately and checking the lifting pick-off points for the ‘hybrid-slab’ such that it stayed stable when transferred via a crane.
I cannot express strongly enough about the work-ethic and inclusive culture at H&S, more specifically the Structural group.
Having worked with all of the Project Managers within, I am immensely grateful to have had the best mentor-student experience with each of them. They always welcomed questions and curiosity and made sure my queries did not go unfulfilled in the slightest while motivating me to learn as much as I wanted from them. I was lucky enough to also go on group lunches and mini golfing with everyone and getting to know them all was a very pleasant experience.
Although previously working in engineering design in India, the work ethic, environment, and culture in Horner & Shifrin was in contrast to my previous experiences. For example, almost everything from signing documents to issuing plans, was all on digital medium and involved no physical paperwork. Adapting to using the company’s file management system, document editors, CAD software and maintaining time sheets with work descriptions helped me a long way in organizing my work and keep account of my documents, work files and progress on projects.
The bi-weekly department meetings and ‘structural lunch and learn’ wherein everyone in the team shares an insight into their project’s progress and a team member volunteers to share knowledge on a topic during lunch breaks, can be described as a ‘hidden treasure’ about working in the structural group.
Communication via Microsoft teams and email was critical in relaying important information which provided a platform for a more relaxed instant messaging and emails for a more formal setting. I was particularly in awe of how the IT support system is at H&S, which was at a click of a button (email shortcut) to get help from IT experts to solve any software malfunction or technical difficulty using their systems. One of my very first assignments was to analyse and present data from previous projects relating to foundation design in order to identify and optimize the design calculations. This included giving a presentation which was well received by my supervisors and gave me feedback on extracting more from the database I had created.
My tasks ranged from performing checks to existing designs, analysing data to developing my own workflow, to designing a specific component following guidelines and/or provisions. My thought process leading towards this was such that to create my own version of the same workflow and calculations. This allowed me to fully understand the concept, input and what would ultimately affect the output results. Eventually, I was included to work on design and calculations for structural components of key-ongoing projects. The engineers in the structural group were experienced and talented who were passionate for their work. This consecutively motivated me to be more passionate about solving problems in structural engineering.
The environment at H&S nurtures passion for engineering and strongly encourages both professional and personal development which also constructive to me wanting to continue working as an engineer with the structural group post summer 2023. More emphasis on a personal front, working at H&S helped to learn manage time better and take more informed decisions considering long-term scenarios.
Although my focus for the past one year in Bradley University’s MS civil engineering program has more been focused on specializing in structural engineering courses, my work at H&S comprised more of Structural Bridge Engineering tasks for which I had no direct experience before professionally. My recent course with Dr. Yoon Si Lee on Prestressed Concrete Design however helped me to relate to the AASHTO code and prestressed concrete components I had to work on. This course along with my coursework with Dr. Mahmood R. Soltani in Advanced Mechanics of Materials came of immense help to work with the FPS unit system used in the USA as compared to the SI system used elsewhere. While I was informed that most of the graduates do not come into Structural Bridge with coursework in bridges, any experience with Bridge Engineering coursework would definitely speed up the learning curve when eventually working on projects. I would say that I have had considerable experience with CAD software credit to my previous experience, mostly on Autodesk’s suite of products whereas the state departments in the Midwest e.g., IDOT, MoDOT, ArDOT etc. base their CAD environment on Bentley’s suite. Since their user interface and experience is quite different from its competitor, I believe any basic instruction (as part of CADD courses offered in university-level) on its use would boost the learning curve for more advanced tasks significantly.
Horner & Shifrin has consistently been ranked as a Top Workplace for five consecutive years (2017-2021) by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
My experience with regards to the work culture, interaction with colleagues and tasks I got to get my hands on was beyond my expectations.
It was always exciting to show up to work and I was really humbled by how my colleagues, senior level staff treated me and were flexible with my work schedule during my recovery period post my car accident. Especially allowing me to work remotely as I healed from my injuries and being there to help whenever I needed anything outside of work. I believe, my internship challenged me to become a better version of myself and exposed me to an invaluable community of engineers and friends. It allowed me to experience structural engineering on a different wavelength, among experts who had a lot to give and peers who were willing to expedite my learning. As I work through the rest of my graduate coursework and research thesis whose future application is towards bridges, my internship at Horner and Shifrin gave me an invaluable experience by instilling a mindset to approach research problems directed towards more practical issues that ease an engineer’s workload with respect to designing structures rather than try and achieve superfluous accuracy to an existing process.
It gave me an environment to learn and adapt to workflows and software which I gladly took up making it my next milestone to achieve.