14 September 2021

Internship as a path to the expertise

How many times have you felt “thrown into the fire” on your first day at work? Would real practice work support your rich theoretical knowledge?  Institut IGH has recognized this critical step over the years and has begun to apply it by taking on student interns throughout the year in various departments. Only a combination of theoretical and quality knowledge can result in a quality experience that provides students with security and accuracy in their work. We have always attracted and encouraged the cooperation of our experts with students. We welcome them today with open doors.

One of the many students that came to intern for us this year was Madelaine Ivana Smith. She moved her summer internship from Ontario, Canada, straight to Institut IGH in Zagreb. In her name itself, we can already reveal that this is a young woman with Croatian roots. Currently, she is a third-year student of civil engineering in Canada. Before she left for well deserved holiday, we sat down with her a did an interview. It is not every day that you get an intern from a different country, let alone a different continent. We wanted to know how was her experience in IGH. During Madelaine’s stay in Zagreb, her mentor was our Head of the Laboratory for Materials, B.Sc. Karla Ille. Karla guided Madeline through all spheres of her internship, and she was with us during the interview.

Hi Madelaine, can you introduce yourself to us shortly?

My name is Madeline Ivana Smith, and I am a civil engineering student at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. I am from Canada, but I grew up in New York. I’m half Croatian. My mother is from Zagreb. I’m in my third year of studies, and I hope to have further education in the future. Alongside that, I would like to get more field experience and go into a master’s degree in either civil engineering or something related to that.

Why civil engineering?

Growing up, I always loved math and science, but I was more on the creative side. My grandfather is a Professor at McGill, and he’s in science, in neuropharmacology. He was the one who introduced me to the world of science and started my interest. I knew that I wanted to do something with math and science, so I went into engineering. I love working with my hands, I love the connection to the environment, and I love the opportunity to work in the lab.

How did this idea of coming to Croatia, combining summer holidays with an internship come about?

I knew my family was coming to Croatia this summer, and I wanted to get some experience in engineering. I reached out to a friend of a family who happened to be IGH employee, we talked for a while via email, and he introduced me to the IGH. He explained to me about a potential internship program. I sent my resume, I came, and it was a great experience.

US and Canadian educational systems are pretty different from the European. There is a lot of theory in Croatia and less actual work practice. What is the ratio between theory and practice in Canada?

It’s a pretty good ratio between theory and practice. In my first and second year of University, we had courses in a lecture and once a week for each class, we would be able to go into a lab, or we’d be able to go and design a bridge or mix some concrete. It was good being able to read the textbook, take the exam and practice it on paper. But then, especially in civil engineering, you need that hands-on experience.

When you look back on your studying so far, being the third year, how much of what you learned so far you could apply here?

It has been the best opportunity to see everything I’ve learned so far and then applying it in real life. To see how projects work and the small concept that I would see in my textbook (like even just changing the water to cement ratio) is something I would study, but here I was able to work on actual projects hands-on. That was a great experience.

You have had great colleagues who were guiding you. You went through all the laboratories, saw a bit of design and now you’re working with Karla Ille – Head of Laboratory for Materials.  Where do you see yourself after you finish University? Which part of civil engineering is closest to you?

I’m at a point where I know what I like and what I don’t like. I don’t have the answer yet, but I’m getting closer to finding that. At the end of the day, I want to use my interests and things I know and am good at.

You’ve spent a month at IGH, which is short but long enough to get a sense of the company. Do you feel that IGH gives young students an excellent foundation to develop further in internships?

Absolutely. I can say that not only for myself I’ve experienced that but talking to many young students here, they all said the same thing. They’ve been able to get the experience they may have lacked at the University, or they had it only in theory.

For many years civil engineering was stamped as man’s profession. There’s been an expansion of women in this field, working in labs and supervision and design. What would you say to young girls that are interested in this field?

I would recommend it all. When I started at the University, it was the most inspiring thing to see women who were my mentors and encouraged me to keep going even if it was a male-dominated industry. My advice is – absolutely follow every interest you have and do the things you are afraid to do. You are more capable than you think you are.

Karla – do you want to add something about Madeline?

Madelaine is a wonderful young engineer who has a bright future ahead of her. She is very interested in all areas of engineering and did very well in the laboratory, understanding its structure. We introduced her to the documentation, and she is an excellent worker and student who quickly absorbs knowledge. Although, coming from a different Canadian system, she understands everything because math is the same everywhere in the world. She understands the whole concept, and now, perhaps design suits her better than the lab. Still, when she connects everything, she will be an outstanding engineer.

 

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