Two hurricanes and a snowstorm buffeted Texas A&M third-year construction science student Nathan Atkins during his internship, but he said the experience has given him complete confidence that he’s ready to graduate and enter the “real world.”
“Although my internship was riddled with one natural disaster after another, learning how to cope, adapt and stay on my feet will help me immensely in times to come,” he said. “I have switched housing approximately nine times and lived in two states, all while being completely immersed in the world of construction. I have grown up more in the past seven months than I have since the beginning of college.”
Atkins began his internship in May 2012 with the Conti Group, managing subcontractors at a Conti project installing hurricane floodwalls in New Orleans, but his stay there was interrupted when Hurricane Isaac struck Port Fourchon, Louisiana, August 29 approximately 60 miles south of New Orleans.
“My hotel had about 2 feet of water in it and the roof was blown off. The room was trashed and it was crazy with construction and repair crews everywhere after the storm,” he said.
There was no housing available for him after the hurricane, which dumped up to 17 inches of rain in New Orleans.
“The project was starting to wind down anyway,” he said. “Conti had a turnpike project in New Jersey they needed help on so they sent me up there.”
Atkins joined the project, a bridge restoration on the New Jersey Turnpike’s eastern spur near the Lincoln Tunnel, which takes motorists to Manhattan.
“It’s a complete restoration,” he said. “We are ripping up the entire deck in three separate stages and replacing concrete underneath the bridge.”
His typical day began at 6:30 a.m. and included three to four daily meetings at an offsite office dealing with costs, scheduling and progress reports, as well as daily trips to the site to make sure things are progressing satisfactorily.
By late October, Hurricane Sandy was closing in on the New Jersey job site.
“We had to move everything at the site above the water level,” said Atkins. “The bridge is in a marshy area so everything within 10 feet of the lake was moved to higher ground.”
Since Atkins wasn’t in a forced evacuation area, he rode out the storm in a Somerset, New Jersey hotel, approximately 50-miles from the bridge. “The morning after the hurricane, we had already gotten power back and a complimentary breakfast was ready,” he said.
Within nine days, Sandy's onslaught was followed by a powerful weather system known as a nor’easter, which brought snow and freezing temperatures to the area.
Notwithstanding the chaotic weather, Atkins said his experience made him a believer in the College of Architecture's "semester-away" requirement, in which undergraduates spend a long semester engaged in an internship or studying abroad or at another institution.
“It should be required for every major,” he said. “I am a very visual and kinetic learner and need to be out in the field to fully understand the concept of anything. This, coupled with the additional learning of how to live in a state all by oneself is enough to prepare anybody for a life after college. This is why I recommend getting as far away from your comfort zone as possible, away from anything that could serve as a crutch, so you can really experience living on your own.”