When you are at school, the whole world seems to exist in its own little bubble. There were many times I remained oblivious to what was going on in the world, only able to scan the New York Times every couple of days, relying on WILG’s resident Course 17s to explain to me the riots/reforms/goings-on in the Middle East, a Japanese student group to hear about the earthquake in Japan or election signs popping up outside of Kresge. The world consists of problem sets, papers, alarm clocks, and in my case, rowing regattas.
This summer is the first I’ve spent outside of academia. Although my past two summers were spent in a variety of locales (take advantage of MIT’s willingness to pay for you to travel) including England, Holland, Uganda, Boston and Mexico City, this is the first I feel I have really ventured into the real world, or what the real world may hold for me in the future.
I am spending the summer in Bend, OR, a small city of 80,000, but the largest city in Central Oregon. It is traditionally the play place of skiers, campers, kayakers, rafters and those on the hunt for the perfect microbrew, but this summer it is my home while I am interning with Kittelson & Associates. Kittelson is a transportation planning and engineering consulting firm based out of Portland, OR, but with eight other offices around the country.
My real world summer started with a 1,000 mile drive from Colorado to Oregon. Central Oregon is pretty isolated and it was inevitable that I would need a car. But the car was in Colorado, I was in Cambridge, and my job was in Oregon. So that began my cross-country adventure. I’ve taken plenty of road trips in my time, but then tended to be on well-defined routes. To my grandparents in Utah or Arizona, depending on the season, or to regattas in the mid-West. My 1,000 mile adventure was my first solo road trip and my first time venturing into Idaho and Oregon.
Other real world aspects of my summer involved finding a place to live. To Craigslist it was. After crossing off hundreds of ads looking for long-term roommates (I have places to be in the fallâ€¦) or listing cats as one of the roommates (that could make for an unpleasant summer), I found the house I am currently living in. It is strange to live in a house with a yard, and utilities, and your own kitchen.
The most real world part of my summer might have to be my job though. It is strange not to be in school and to be working on real projects. That is what internships are for though. I have probably learned just as much in the past three weeks as I have at MIT, though the knowledge is very different. I have learned about working with clients and running meetings. I have learned about what it is like to work in an office, to bill your time, to interact with people at different levels within a company. And of course, I have learned about transportation.
A question I get asked a lot is what exactly transportation engineering is. Transportation engineering involves looking at who and how many people are going where, what mode they are traveling by, and what route they are taking to get there. It looks at all forms of transport: cars, transit, bikes and pedestrians. It includes deciding on road striping and signage, to forecasting future travel demand (how many people will want to go here in the future). It is intrinsically intertwined with urban planning because people always need to go somewhere.
I am interested in transportation because it involves people and something they use every day, but rarely take the time to think about. When transportation systems work, people don’t think about them, but when they don’t, they complain. A successful transport network enables cities to function and people to get from point A to point B.
Even though I knew I was interested in transportation, I had never realized the extent to which systems must be engineered. I have been exposed to so many new things so far this summer, at work as well as outside. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore the field, and to get to know my adopted home for the summer.