Bechtel National Inc.’s radioactive waste treatment plant project has provided more than 330 internship opportunities for college students seeking real-world experience in their fields of study since 2006.
From engineering, construction, procurement, environmental, safety, and information technology, to the human resources and public communications departments, interns receive unique opportunities to directly contribute and assist in completing project objectives under the mentorship of full-time professionals.
Katie Henckel, a former 2015 waste treatment plant intern now working full-time in the Environmental, Safety and Health Department at Bechtel, called the experience rewarding.
“Bechtel puts a lot of trust in their interns and treats them with the same respect as full-time employees. Our work was valued,” she said.
In 2001, Bechtel began construction on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hanford Tank Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant.
Once complete, the vitrification plant, or vit plant, as it’s known, will “process and stabilize millions of gallons of radioactive and chemical waste currently stored at the Hanford site,” said George R. Rangel, a Bechtel spokesman at the plant.
The facility is scheduled to begin treating waste as early as 2022 as the world’s largest radioactive waste treatment operation, Rangel said.
Though an international company offering internship opportunities worldwide, Lisa Armstrong, Bechtel’s human resources manager for the plant, said a third of the site’s interns are from Tri-Cities who are enrolled in regional colleges and universities.
Armstrong reports this is thanks to successful partnering with local institutions, active recruitment efforts and presence at career day and job fair events.
“We seek a diverse skill set (in applicants) that we look to promote,” Armstrong said.
“We look forward every year to engaging with our interns, and have a pretty aggressive process that we go through to make sure they have opportunities to be involved in the Bechtel community and interact with all levels of management, other interns and recent college hires.
“We are very engaged, not only in career and work environment conditions, but also ensuring that they have housing and transport. We want interns to not only be successful at work, but be totally equipped,” she said.
Bechtel worked with 22 interns this past summer.
“The most valuable aspect of our program is our interns truly contribute to the success of this project. They have meaningful work that they can connect to their academic studies,” Armstrong said.
Nathan Sargent, a Richland High School graduate and junior in business management at WSU in Pullman, completed his first internship this summer in Bechtel’s Procurement Subcontracts Department.
He worked at the construction site and gained hands-on experience writing field subcontracts and participated in all three stages of the contract process: formation, facilitation and close-out.
“I really liked getting to see the everyday construction and improvement of the project … the subcontracts group has to work with all other departments—engineers, craftsmen and project managers—and I got to see how they all come together to make things happen,” Sargent said.
He is considering pursuing another Bechtel internship next summer.
“I would like to expand my knowledge and see another side of the business field,” he said.
Luckily, internships pursued within the same department are highly renewable, as Maggie Schappell can attest.
Schappell, a graduating senior from Colorado State University studying environmental engineering, was a returning intern this summer to Bechtel’s Environmental, Safety and Health Department.
“I really enjoyed the work I did last summer. I didn’t have to spend as much time training this time around and was able to jump right back in,” she said.
Schappell focused specifically on environmental protection during her two internships.
The environmental component of the Environmental, Safety & Health Department is comprised of three subgroups at Bechtel.
Schappell was given opportunities to work in all three, as well as process improvement activities, which she feels will inform her future work.
“I got to see just how massive and unique and challenging a project this is—it’s never really been done before. I got to take a step back from the day-to-day and see what this project is trying to complete for the community and the environment,” Schappell said.
Schappell will graduate in December. “Given the opportunity, I would definitely come back here to work,” she said.
Bechtel’s intern program often serves as a foot in the door to future careers for many interns.
“Over half of the interns that go through (the waste treatment plant’s) program are returning for multiple internships or becoming full-time college hires,” Rangel said.
Given the company’s international reach, a host of potential job options in locations around the world also are available to former interns following graduation—a welcome boost in what has been a highly competitive employment sector inundated with competent degree holders.
Now a full-time employee, former intern Katie Henckel has continued the work in air dispersion modeling that she began as an intern, in addition to new roles.
“It’s been a neat journey to go from never using one of these programs before, learning briefly about it during my internship, and now doing it as a full-time employee … very cool to build on the knowledge from my internship,” she said.
The highly coveted, paid, 10-week summer internships are posted in the fall online, and require applicants be “enrolled full time in an accredited college or university and have completed at least nine months of full-time university studies,” Rangel said.
Applicants also must be actively pursuing a field of study relevant to their intended internship focus.
As the waste treatment plant nears completion, Armstrong said the internship program will continue and more full-time jobs will become available at the site as the plant comes online and begins to process waste in the coming years.
“We have so many people out at the waste treatment plant working on it. It was once just a barren site out at the Hanford project,” Sargent said. “It’s pretty mind-blowing … to see everyone work together on this complex project and watch it move forward through construction.”
Internships are posted at jobs.bechtel.com. Click on the “recent graduates and students” section.
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