One of the things that attracted me to McKinstry’s internship program was the opportunity to work on a team where I was of tangible use. So far, my experience has been just that—I’ve been an entry-level design engineer who gets to learn while doing work that needs to be done.
Energy auditing and mechanical design adjustments to boost energy efficiency has been the name of the game for me as I’ve worked in the Spokane office this summer.
During my first week on the job, I traveled with Derek Larson, a design engineer, to a small town in the rolling hills of the Palouse. McKinstry recently helped a small school district there win a large grant to fund an elementary school renovation. The building itself was two stories and made up of several classrooms, office spaces and a gym whose layout was engraved into stone tablets by an architect in the Jurassic era (OK, it was 1927). Adaptations and renovations since then have added offices and rooms to the plans we didn’t know about until we stepped into the school.
Using the hand-sketched plans from the ultra-modern 1937 architectural renovation, we drew up a 3D Revit model, from which we could produce modern blueprints and PDFs. Based on that, our site visit and some further analysis, I was able to calculate the thermal load and ventilation necessities of the building to allow the equipment vendor to properly size HVAC units for the school.
Derek and I then developed preliminary plans with a new layout of fan coils, electric heaters, ductwork and equipment schedules necessary to provide a guaranteed price to the school district while leaving the old steam system in place for redundant heating, as requested by the school.
This is only one of many projects I’ve worked on with Derek this summer, but I’ve been able to use many of the notes and files from this project to assist with each of my subsequent projects. From small Palouse towns, to Yakima, Missoula and even Seattle, projects of various sizes have come across my desk, almost all of which are mechanical design projects with older HVAC systems being upgraded to variable refrigerant flow systems.
The initial challenges I encountered at McKinstry have mostly been due to the learning curve of being a new intern—new job, new software, new coworkers, new practices. I’ve also had first-hand experience with surmounting a familiar industry challenge: making the transfer from design to construction.
For example, I found sizing ductwork, fan coil piping, and ventilation systems was often easy and I got to be on the front end of a lot of it. However, finding space to get large ductwork through the concrete walls of the mechanical room, into an oddly shaped stairwell, and up to the first floor without taking away any classroom space was complicated. It required specific attention to section views, detailed notes and lots of collaboration to ensure proper installation after the initial design was sorted out.
Every challenge faced—from small and typical to large and complex—has added valuable perspective into my work experience as an intern. To work through these issues, setbacks and re-designs with a wide variety of disciplines on a budget to create the best-possible built environment all while being efficient and effective—that’s my goal, and McKinstry’s as well. The more challenges and obstacles I can work through now, the more prepared I will be to face them again as a full-time employee.
Luckily for me, there’s a team here with a culture built on supporting each other that I can lean on when I encounter new challenges. I can also learn from this team, since they’ve often faced the same challenge a thousand times over.
When I need mechanical help, I can message Jeff. When I need software help, I can hop down to “the pit” to ask Rick. When I have a commissioning question, Garrett or Corey can answer it a couple desks down. When I need chocolate, Ashley has the stash. The people truly make a job, and I’m grateful I’ve been able to learn so much from everyone at McKinstry.