May 20, 2020

 

Like many others, as COVID-19 continued to unfold, we at Kittelson were faced with the decision of canceling our internship program or renovating it to make it work for the unique circumstances of Summer 2020.

Kittelson’s internship program is something we’re collectively very proud of, because we invest a great deal of thought and time to provide a meaningful experience for the next generation of transportation professionals.

One of the highlights of our 2019 “Intern Jamboree”: the Portland bike tour!

During our typical three-month program, interns are given the same responsibilities as an entry-level employee and are paired with mentors to guide their journeys as they get to know Kittelson staff who work in all aspects of the profession. At the end of the summer, we host the “Intern Jamboree,” a week in which all interns fly to the same location for a medley of field trips, presentations, and meet-and-greets.

Because we knew we couldn’t offer this full experience in 2020, and were concerned about the difficulties of “remote onboarding” and the possibility that students wouldn’t feel connected to our firm through a virtual program, we were initially unsure if we’d be having an internship program this year. Mid-March, we made calls to all of our committed interns to let them know two things: 1) if they have another year of school, they will have a guaranteed internship with us next summer; and 2) we are giving this decision a lot of thought and will have an answer for them in a few weeks.

As March ended and April began, however, our perspective began to change.

“For one thing, we saw how well we as a firm were adapting to the work-from-home environment,” said Jennifer Musselman, senior engineer/planner and leader of the internship program. “We didn’t see a dip in productivity, and we were finding ways to connect with each other. We became more confident our staff could handle the additional responsibilities of running a virtual internship program.”

Jennifer said the decision became clear when it was confirmed that an in-person internship would not be possible this year.

“Faced with the decision of canceling, the tone shifted and we knew: we can’t just leave them hanging. So we got creative. One of our main reasons for keeping the program was recognizing the situation these interns are in. They’re going to be entering a tough job market. We wanted to give something to hang their hat on, and keeping the values of our traditional internship, we wanted to give them a real educational experience and exposure to the breadth of the transportation profession.”

"One of our main reasons for keeping the program was recognizing the situation these interns are in. They’re going to be entering a tough job market."

- Jennifer Musselman, Senior Engineer/Planner

The Structure of Kittelson’s Virtual Internship Program

With a green light to proceed, Kittelson’s internship team developed a program built around trainings led by Kittelson staff who have experience teaching on key topics in the transportation profession. These trainings were selected to expose students to a breadth of topics—from transit to roundabouts to safety to complete streets—and give them an idea of the types of activities they’ll do on projects.

“Every week, the training will have a different theme. Then we’ll fill in with some of our traditional internship program elements, such as meet & greets and tech sessions. The tech sessions cover a combination of hard and soft skills—from consulting basics and the history of Kittelson to final design and microsimulation,” said Jennifer.

Jon Crisafi, one of our intern mentors, came up with the idea to also set up “project livestreams,” where interns can tune in to watch Kittelson staff work on projects in real time and ask questions about what they’re doing and why.

Interns from past years consistently tell us that the connection with other interns is one of the highlights of their summer. To make this connection possible in the remote environment, the activities during the training are designed to be completed in small groups, with groups rotating so each student gets to work with the majority of other interns during the summer. Every Friday, the interns will have a call where they’ll get to know one another better.

In addition, regardless of their participation in our virtual program this year, all students who have another year of school have been invited to come back to intern with Kittelson next summer.

Stay in Touch This Summer!

These are unusual circumstances. We’re working hard to adapt, but we’ll certainly learn some lessons along the way. We’ll keep you updated on our program via social media (find us on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn) and feel free to reach out to us throughout the summer with any questions you have! Let’s navigate these virtual times together.