I came across this internship through the university in my third year, and it piqued my interest because I am interested in learning more about the energy field. Learning what can be done to create a more energy efficient business is something I personally care about. My name is Melanie. I am a Northeastern University student in the Industrial Engineering program where I will also earn a minor in Mathematics. When I was asked if I would write about my experience at Fairbanks Energy Services (FES), I welcomed the opportunity to talk about my co-op (short for “co-operative education”).
How I got here
I am fortunate this company chose to train me because I had the best learning experience. Previously, I worked for a paper mill as a Process Engineering Co-Op. While I was there, I honed the ability to manage my time between various projects and at FES I was able to utilize that skill.
Energy efficiency/management is the field I would eventually like to work in. While at Fairbanks Energy, I’ve been involved with the lighting and mechanical teams who facilitate energy efficiency in buildings. After six months of working on several projects, I think I see myself doing a deeper dive into analyzing data collected in the future.
A typical day as an engineering intern
There was no typical day on the job. Some days I put together spreadsheets, others I would enter data collected from the field for the lighting team, or put together drawings for the mechanical team in AutoCAD outlining where existing or future machinery and piping would be placed. My favorite days were when I got to go on site and see the solutions being designed in the office “come to light” and produce results in the field.
Sometimes I spent a day working solely on one project and other days, where my help was needed, I would work on multiple projects simultaneously. My role primarily benefited clients by working closely with project managers to deliver an energy efficient solution for their businesses.
During my time at Fairbanks Energy Services I was able to acquire a good deal of knowledge about the energy industry and see my work be applied in the real world. A lot of the work I was assigned was interesting and allowed me to get involved with all parts of the business. I had the opportunity to see all the steps of a project from when it was first acquired, to performing an audit, determining retrofits, as well as seeing the installation and programming the new lighting.
Challenges while on the job
I would be remiss to leave out the fact that this co-op became unique because of COVID-19. My daily tasks did not change much when we had to stop working in the office. However, what changed was my ability to go on work sites at the same capacity as I did beforehand.
An interesting challenge I overcame while at Fairbanks Energy was a potential LED lighting project where a scanned plan of a large Connecticut warehouse was provided without building dimensions and only a few room areas. The scanned PDF was not editable, so I created a drawing as close as possible to the original, determined a scale based on a satellite picture on Google and approximated room areas in the warehouse. I was pleased to see that the overall product came out so close to accurate in the end.
Part of the team
I am grateful that I came across this opportunity where I could work with a great team and walk away with references and connections. I hope all my future experiences working for energy firms are this team-oriented and full of positive energy. I also appreciated how they provided a social “virtual happy hour” on Friday afternoons throughout the COVID-19 situation. I felt it was a good way to keep the team spirit alive (through video chats) while everyone (mostly) worked from home.
Their flexibility as a company was also great to watch and will inform my future decisions when looking for companies to work for. I believe being cloud-based is important as we are constantly working in different states and in different types of buildings. The switch from working in the office to working remotely was almost seamless.
If you also want to co-op at Fairbanks Energy …
… I know that previous co-ops have maintained relationships with FES (a couple are on staff now!) and I believe it’s a fantastic learning environment for students. The team here really has your back and takes time to explain any questions you ever have. My direct supervisor, Tom (Tom Cashman, Director of Project Management), was very approachable. He was good at making sure I was comfortable with the amount of work I had, as well as ensuring the work was beneficial to my learning, building out the skill set I will need for my career.
Insights for the future
It is satisfying to know that working in energy efficiency really makes a difference. I also know that I like working on the commercial/industrial side of the fence. This allows me to contribute a far greater impact to reducing energy use than strictly in the residential sector.
Before working at Fairbanks Energy Services, I had no idea how many businesses were not taking advantage of investing in energy to make their businesses more energy efficient now, and in return saving a lot in the future. I also did not know how many businesses were truly in need of a lighting or HVAC update. Now that I have worked in the industry during this co-op, I am a lot more aware of being more energy efficient myself!