By Kirsten Hooper
Kirsten Hooper completed an internship with GeoEngineers this summer after graduating from Seattle University. She then turned that opportunity into full-time work as a field technician as she prepares to return to school to complete a master’s program. That practical experience has helped Kirsten make important decisions about her future and jump-started a career in geotechnical engineering. See our Students and Graduates page to find out more about GeoEngineers’ internship program.
Prior to my senior year of college, I was essentially having an identity crisis. I was studying Civil Engineering and Environmental Science at Seattle University and looking at master’s programs in Environmental Engineering, but I soon figured out that was not my passion. I wanted to see my projects get built and focus less on systems. What kind of engineer did I want to be? How was I supposed to go into a master’s program without knowing what program I wanted? What was I going to do with my degree?
At the time, I was grading for Seattle University’s Soil Mechanics class and realized that geotechnical could be an option for me. I was hesitant to go straight into a geotechnical master’s program without some experience first, as I had already changed my mind about environmental engineering when I was once very sure. Due to my double major, I had a couple extra credits that I needed to complete after graduating and used these as an opportunity to find an internship exploring the field of geotechnical engineering—a fascinating sub discipline that I had been interested in but never explored. That is when I realized an internship may be the best option for me.
As I started looking for internship positions, I met GeoEngineers employee Cherisa Yaplee through her sister Marika, a student at SU. Cherisa heard about my background in environmental science and civil engineering, and suggested GeoEngineers. She explained the culture of the company and the nature of the work, and I could see the passion for the company in the way she spoke so highly of it. I was very interested to say the least. That evening I went home and did some research on the company. I explored most of the projects that were posted on the company website, and I really enjoyed seeing the variety of projects. I could see myself working on any one of them! I applied for an internship within a couple weeks of meeting Cherisa.
Even though I researched some of GeoEngineers’ projects, nothing came close to hearing things firsthand on my first day as an intern. Within a week, I learned about different shoring walls and techniques, how borings are logged and how samples are handled in the lab. I found out about the different specializations within the company. We have development projects, transportation project and earthquake projects. The projects ranged from huge development projects to small slope-remediation projects. I found each of them interesting in their own way. Not only that, I learned how to understand construction projects in the greater Seattle area. The internship opened my eyes to the different companies, who is doing what and the geologic marvel that Seattle is. I had no idea. Now I can identify contractors and subcontractors, construction phases and even where in the phase a project is. I also learned about and handled tools that I had only read about in textbooks. Inclinometers, nuclear density gauge, transducers—these were all new to me and fun to use. But the most important thing I learned during my internship is that I wanted to be a geotechnical engineer and I saw a future with GeoEngineers.
Through the collective knowledge of the engineers at GeoEngineers, I learned about different paths to becoming a geotechnical engineer and the different specialties of each engineer. I talked to employees from all over the country and from all sorts of graduate programs. Each explained their program and what they learned from it. With their input, I applied to a couple different graduate programs in the PNW and Midwest, determined to obtain my master’s degree in Geotechnical Engineering and hopefully return to GeoEngineers after graduation as an engineer.
Without GeoEngineers taking a chance on a soul-searching senior from Seattle University, I would not be where I am today. I am so thankful to the firm for showing me what it means to be a part of a great company culture and examples of dedicated engineers.