Every day, CCEE students encounter extraordinary experiences and opportunities made possible by donor support to the CCEE Enhancement Fund. One of those opportunities is CCEE’s Immersion Experiences Program, which exposes students to real-world civil, construction, and environmental engineering projects that expand education beyond the confines of a classroom.
CCEE Professor and former Department Head George List started the program in 2019 as a way to make engineering come to life for undergraduates by connecting between material covered in the classroom and real-world projects. He was inspired to bring the experience to NC State after participating in a similar program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he held various positions in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
List takes about 15 to 30 CCEE students to local engineering project sites on immersion experiences once a month over the course of the academic year. Site visit have included everything from mixed-use developments to waste-treatment facilities to highway interchanges. Students are tasked with solving a real-world problem the project engineers faced, tour the project site, and are given the opportunity to chat with the engineering firm involved.
“There are three pieces to the program,” List said. “You cast a problem-solving initiative or an analysis that you want the students to focus on. It could be analysis of a beam, design of a waste treatment facility, design of a building, construction, staging, etc. The students do preparatory work to think about that problem and how it would be addressed and what information they would need to have to address the problem. Then they go to the real project site and interact with the host firm to learn about how that problem was addressed in the context of the actual project.”
List said participants from the host firm evaluate and critique the analysis work the students did, which allows the students to gain experiential knowledge about how what they learn in the classroom is applied in the real world.
“It’s more than just going to see a site, and it’s more than just a field trip,” List said. “Field trips are great, and they’re certainly helpful, but on a field trip, you can be a passive participant. And that’s not the idea with the immersion experience. Students are actively involved and are endeavoring to pretend that they’re the people responsible for solving the problem, and they’re going to express what they think is the right answer. And then they’re going to see what the professionals did and grow intellectually by seeing the contrast between what they thought was the right answer or the better solution or the good solution compared with what was actually done.”
The Immersion Experiences Program is voluntary, and students must be accepted for participation as there are a limited number of spaces available. The program is open to all CCEE students from freshman to seniors.
Ellie Nir, a senior studying environmental engineering, has participated in the program throughout her undergraduate career and said it’s “truly been one of the best parts of my time at NC State.
“I come away from every immersion experience trip with a sense of the huge effort that goes into seeing projects through from start to finish.These trips have also been a great way to explore more of North Carolina, make contacts with people in industry, and meet other CCEE students.”
Nir said that the program gives students like herself an opportunity to explore engineering beyond the classroom.
“As an environmental engineering student who is interested in water resources, I’ve known from class that I enjoy chemistry, hydraulics, and understanding processes. But it’s a completely different feeling to visit a project site and see large-scale equipment being used, the number of people working together, and the scheduling, technology, and materials behind everything. Having this experience as a first-year, before I had an internship or took any higher-level courses, was invaluable because it gave me things to talk about and exposed me to different career options.”
Lindsay Bailey, a junior studying civil engineering, said she wanted to participate in the program because she was interested in seeing how what she was learning in the classroom would apply to the professional world.
“I wanted to be able to apply my skills and gain experience with real-life engineering problem-solving. This program merges what you learn in class with real world application. It teaches you the value of experience by pointing out areas where we’re not fully informed by classroom learning. I’ve learned a lot about what it looks like to do engineering in real time. I’ve learned it’s a lot of problem solving that brings together many aspects of the education I’m receiving.”
One of her favorite program experiences was visiting the North Hills Shopping Center site in Raleigh.
“I enjoyed the challenge we were given to create a logistics plan for the site,” Bailey said. “This helped me to understand just how much goes into planning a site and helped me to identify knowledge gaps.”
Evan Helms, a junior studying civil engineering with a concentration in transportation engineering, said he also enjoyed visiting the North Hills site.
“This type of large-scale project requires a large team with expertise in a variety of fields. It gave me a newfound appreciation for project planning and management. The program is a great way for students like me to gain real-world experience in a variety of fields. It has allowed me to explore real problems that are being solved by real firms. Visiting actual job sites has also added significance to the courses I’ve taken at NC State. I’ve been able to apply the knowledge I’ve learned in classes and connect it to real problems at these job sites, which has been extremely rewarding.”
List said the program would not be possible without gift funds, which help cover costs such as student travel.
You can help support CCEE programs such as the Immersion Experiences Program by gifting to the CCEE Enhancement Fund during the 2023 Day of Giving on Wednesday, March 22.
Your support enables recruitment and retention of the best and brightest faculty and students, support for our student organizations, field trips to complement classroom instruction and opportunities for faculty and students to present at conferences. Our enhancement fund is critical to the department as we strive to continue to provide opportunities for students and faculty.