Construction management major excels at dream internship in Alaska
Published August 02, 2013
When Jon Lawler walked into the NDSU Engineering and Tech Expo in September 2011, he had a few things on his internship wish list. The construction management major from Linton, N.D., wanted to do something outdoors and have a chance to apply his work ethic someplace far from home.
The annual expo gives students a chance to meet with prospective employers and to be introduced to career options. It was there that Lawler met Kim Shoemake, a recruiter and intern coordinator for industrial contracting company Dunkin & Bush, and found a dream internship that took him to Valdez, Alaska.
Lawler’s internship went so well in 2012 that he returned this summer and gained additional responsibilities. In a land where bald eagles are as common as pigeons and bears show up on the worksite on occasion, Lawler is satisfying his love of adventure while gaining real-world experience he will take into the workforce.
North to Alaska
Dunkin & Bush serves a broad array of industries from petrochemical to food processing in locations ranging throughout the Pacific Northwest, Utah, Alaska and Hawaii. Lawler chose to work in Valdez, a community of more than 4,000 people located on a deep fjord off Prince William Sound, surrounded by the Chugach Mountains. The remote community is a terminal port of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
Lawler’s first summer in Valdez consisted of 12-hour days, seven days per week. He quickly moved into sandblasting and painting, but ultimately began learning management techniques from his supervisor before his internship ended in mid-August 2012. “They put a lot of money into the internship program,” Lawler said. “The manual work tends to weed out people.”
He excelled his first summer. The company had 27 interns work on a hypothetical bid document that was graded by Tom Dunkin II, one of the company’s founders. The assignment required providing estimates on a previously completed project. Lawler’s contributions were named the winner in two of the assignment’s sections. Lawler said the project provided real-world estimating experience.
“Jon received rave reviews and everyone was extremely pleased,” Shoemake said, referring to Lawler’s first summer on the job. “They said they’d like to have five or six more like him next summer. He raised the bar considerably.”
Lawler’s experience paid off in the classroom upon his return to NDSU. His spring 2013 semester featured a construction management capstone course. The three-stage course was based on a 2005 hospital expansion completed in Kansas. Students used a set of blueprints and rendering software to create the project’s dimensions. The next step was estimating and scheduling out the activities related to the expansion. Lawler said the final step involved estimating the project’s price and bidding it out to contractors.
On the right path
Lawler’s interest in construction management started in high school while working on an industrial coating crew during the summer. He first attended NDSU for mechanical engineering, based on the strength of the program and the financial incentive of a Presidential Scholarship. “I grew up on a farm and have been outside my whole life,” Lawler said. “A desk job didn’t appeal to me. I asked myself, ‘What application of this field could I see myself going into?’ The answer was construction management.”
The decision is paying off this summer, when he is taking on more of a managerial role, estimating projects and working directly with contractors. “The internship definitely shaped my future working in this field,” Lawler said. “They let me do as much as I wanted to do. They were really comfortable letting me talk to lead contractors.”
Lawler also is getting the chance to apply his business background. He’s pursuing a minor in business at NDSU. “It’s provided me with a lot of tools I can use,” he said. “Managerial techniques. Overseeing projects. Working with the mixture of people I come across while coming across clearly and concisely.”
Lawler is scheduled to graduate in December. He said he hopes to take his experiences to a supervisory role, managing job sites in commercial construction.