Being an intern at Construction Management at the University of Michigan is a challenging experience for any architect or engineering student.  This experience will have a lasting influence on my professional career, namely because of the importance I now place on personal relationships in the work place, the ability to understand the other disciplines, and the ability to manage people’s expectations.

Within the first week at the AEC, Tim Pearsall, one of my bosses, told me that a friend once told him, “Its not about building buildings at the University of Michigan, its about building relationships.”  And what I began realizing, especially at a place as big as UofM, you had to find a way to get your job done by getting others to help you along the way.  For instance, I routinely needed the fire alarm shop to disable sprinkler pipes or reset alarms for renovation work.  Why would anyone care about helping me, besides simply doing their job or being benevolent?  They didn’t know me, and there were a thousand other people like me asking for helping.  I began to seek out these people, find them at their desks, and establish relationships with them.  John Birkle is one person who I became friends with, and he helped me many times with challenging problems.

My job also challenged my ability to understand projects much different than those I previously worked on.  With my job experience at VPS Architecture, I focused mainly on the architectural design of high schools, including floorplans, spaces, and architectural features.  This summer, however, I had to delve into mechanical systems, understanding their representation and notations, and understand how these systems operated.  As I discussed these systems with a friend, I marveled at how every mechanical system is a branching pattern, like a tree trunk that tapers into smaller pieces.   An air handling unit starts with a large trunk, and then slowly branches into smaller pieces that provide local effects.  The same pattern is true for water and electricity.  By categorizing this as a branching pattern, I found myself able to comprehend and intelligently discuss the operations of the system.  A few of the architects on my project stated, “I’m not a mechanical engineer but….”  And although I don’t consider myself one either, I will never say such a thing; I’ll say, “From what I understand, this is how I think it should be.”

The last thing, a subtle one at that, is that I learned how to manage people’s expectations.  Constantly, I was meeting with clients, explaining progress, dealing with their concerns, or persuading them that there was an alternative solution.  One of my other bosses, Matt Fuller, was exceptional at managing both the clients and the contractors’ expectations, and he, much like my brother Calvin, could speak to the laborer to a CEO with no problems, and I often found myself thinking, “We aren’t two teams playing a ball game, but one team playing towards a common goal.”

As I move forward in my career, I aim to incorporate these things I learned into the way I manage a A/E practice and establish relationships with others along the way.  I am thankful for the devotion and support of the people working at the AEC, and I look forward to staying in touch.

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