Lilly Lawrin’s eyes widened as she saw the dig site. NPL workers clambered around a 30-foot deep pit, pushing a thick steel gas line underneath railroad tracks in Des Plaines, Ill. Piece by piece, they took pipe segments from a crane, welded them together and bored through soil. When finished, the pipe would travel 100 feet underground before it resurfaced safely away from train and vehicle traffic.
She wanted to see a major project, but the junior construction major from Elk Grove Village, Ill., didn’t expect the wish would be granted to a first-day intern.
“I was shocked my supervisor took me there right after I asked,” she said. “I had never thought about this side of construction, and it excited me to see what I could do. It helped me think more about finding career paths that hadn’t crossed my mind.”
Though the rest of the summer didn’t offer a similar “wow” factor, her projects contributed to public safety in residential neighborhoods where she conducted follow-up visits to recently completed gas line installations. She looked over blueprints to make sure lines and meters were properly placed and old meters were replaced. Then, she surveyed the land to see that any disturbed ground, sidewalks or roads were repaired.
Seeing the infrastructure opened Lawrin’s eyes to the web of utilities that often go unnoticed by Americans accustomed to instant hot water, furnace heat, electricity and internet access.
“We don’t think about those things until power goes out or we have some other issue,” she said. “For being something not on our minds, it’s amazing how much work it takes to provide utilities for us.”
While working in communities, Lawrin learned a lesson she wished she knew as a child: Don’t play with flags and colorful markings on the ground.
“As a kid, I made a game of taking out the flags and running around with them. Don’t do that!” she said. “I know it’s cool to see all the colors and flags on a street corner, but they’re there for a reason. We workers need to know where everything is located so we can service them if something goes wrong.”
Seemingly unnoticed infrastructure continued to catch Lawrin’s attention after fall classes began. Whether it’s Illinois River bridge repairs or work on Bradley’s new business and engineering complex, she could point out details that escape the general public’s view.
“It’s great having a real-life example of my summer experience right outside my classroom windows,” she said. “I now notice little things like wiring or the sequence in which workers are installing HVAC and other utilities. Before this summer, I wouldn’t have recognized the process or understood why things happen that way.”