The Perspective of a SmithGroup Intern: Changing Horizons

During the school year you will find me studying aerospace engineering at Arizona State University, but this summer I’m a SmithGroup intern. You may be wondering what a student with my background is doing working in an architecture and design firm, but I consider myself fortunate to have the experience interning with SmithGroup. In the short time I’ve been here, I have had numerous learning opportunities which have helped me find my passion and advance my career.

SmithGroup Interns on a project site visit
Visiting a project site with teammates from the Phoenix office. I'm on the far left.

Throughout my first three years in the aerospace engineering program at Arizona State University, I have often found myself confused. I have not had a clear sense of what I want to do post-graduation and at times I have not felt drawn to aerospace engineering. While my major is very interesting, challenging and has me constantly thinking, the career opportunities within the industry do not align with my interests. I am passionate about performance and design, and I enjoy finding ways to optimize a system to meet performance criterion in the most efficient way possible. Unfortunately, the strict regulations that shape the aviation industry (for obvious reasons!) mean that opportunities to express yourself, let your imagination and creativity run wild, and find innovative solutions are rare.

As I started looking for summer internships, I sought opportunities that would allow me to express my creativity and ended up looking beyond aerospace. I was attracted to heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineering because of the ability to be creative and the relatively quick progression of projects. While some architectural projects may last years, that is nothing compared to the length of aerospace projects, such as the Boeing 737, which has been an ongoing project since 1964. To me, the world of HVAC engineering offered the chance to work on a wide range of systems and projects in a short time and maximize my learning.

I applied for an internship with SmithGroup because I liked the idea of working with a multidisciplinary team that included engineers, architects and designers. When I was offered an internship in SmithGroup's Phoenix office, I knew working in HVAC was going to be a stretch from what I study but I was thrilled to have the chance to work alongside experts in a range of disciplines.

One of the most interesting things about working in a multidisciplinary firm is watching the flow of ideas. Although everyone on a design team is working to meet a common goal, each discipline has different ideas regarding how that goal could be reached. I have been amazed at the level of collaboration through meetings, phone calls, and drawings to work together to clarify priorities and find the best solution. In my engineering classes, I’ve been told time and time again that all projects require a compromise between weight and space limitations within the structure. Working on buildings at SmithGroup has been surprisingly similar–every project requires finding a compromise between what is aesthetically pleasing, energy efficient, and as compact as possible. My experience working on a cross-discipline team has given me a greater appreciation for having experts with different perspectives on a single team. It will also help me during my final semester capstone course in which I will have to create a design which will require significant collaboration.  

As an engineering student, I was eager to have the chance to learn from the architect’s perspective of engineering. Like aerospace engineering, architecture is an industry ruled by empirical formulae, methods derived from testing, and rules of thumb. I was surprised how many of the architects bring a practical understanding of structures to their projects. As engineers, we often get caught up in numbers, calculations, safety factors, and simulations. In the time which an engineer would run all of our calculations to determine if a design is up to par, an architect may implement a design feature simply because it has worked on a similar project in the past, arriving at the same conclusion in a much shorter timeframe. While having proven calculations is important for safety, the demonstrated value in following intuition is something that I look forward to applying in my studies and career.

SmithGroup Intern working with a mentor
Working with Dylan Hendrix, a mechanical engineer in the Phoenix office.

As I near the end of my internship, I realize that stepping out of my comfort zone to work at SmithGroup has been well worth it. I have had a fantastic time immersing myself in the countless learning opportunities and working to absorb as much information as possible. I owe a lot of appreciation to my mentor–Jon Silhol. Jon has made my transition into the role feel seamless, helping me feel useful and like my ideas and input matter. He has placed a lot of trust in me and let me pursue tasks at the limits of my capabilities for the sake of my learning–even if it meant having to take extra care to look over my work. I would also like to thank Jay Robins and Aditya Dabak for their advice and assistance throughout the duration of my internship.

All in all, the culture at SmithGroup feels amazing–everybody is so welcoming and friendly, even if they are working on tight deadlines. I have never felt so welcomed in a workplace, and it makes me feel happy every time I step foot in the office. My experience with the firm has done a lot to dispel a lot of the negativity I have heard about “working in the real world” and it makes me excited to develop my career in engineering–potentially as an HVAC engineer.


Curious about life as a SmithGroup intern?

Check out a day in the life of our 2019 class of summer interns.