Amber Brown discusses Federal Highway Administration internship


Despite having graduated high school in the teeth of the covid-19 pandemic, Amber Brown has made the most of her time on campus. After a freshman year that was almost entirely remote, Brown felt deprived of a year of involvement in campus life and student organizations.  She remembers frantically searching during her sophomore year for a way to gain experience in her field, civil engineering. 

“It's actually crazy, because I've always been scared to reach out to teachers, not because they're not open. It's more so because it's just new and uncomfortable. I'd never really done that before, networking with your teacher.” 

Brown’s statics teacher mentioned his organization was hiring, which gave Brown the courage to reach out to him. 

"I emailed him, and I was like, ‘Hi, I really enjoyed your class today. I heard you were hiring. Is there anything [for me]? If not, I understand.’ He sent me the program [information], and he's like, ‘Yeah, apply, and I'll put a good word in for you.’” 

Brown became an intern at the US Department of Transportation Summer Transportation Internship Program for Diverse Groups, or the STIPDG program, run through The Washington Center. She worked on the Climate Challenge Program in the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). 

"I got really lucky,” Brown says, "because my mentor was a lead manager. So it kind of allowed me to see the other side of engineering. I did a lot of organizational skills and management work on [things] like planning, webinars, [and] proposals. I was mirroring project managers.” 

She adds, “It was an exciting time, everyone was saying, because Biden was just passing legislation giving out money ... as it relates to anything sustainability.” 

The program “relates to tracking greenhouse gases, which is done via an LCA, a life cycle assessment, or an EPD, an environmental project declaration,” Brown explains. In her role, Brown kept tabs on the program’s email inbox, made updates as needed to the program’s website and shared documents, and wrote up meeting agendas and event plans.  

"I was in a bunch of meetings ... helping plan webinars to get information out,” she says, adding, “My favorite part was just seeing where states are at as it relates to tracking greenhouse gases. It's kind of crazy, because transportation is the biggest producer of greenhouse gas emission, and doing this is going to allow us to track it, make better aggregates, and all that stuff. So I was able to learn a lot about pavements and design.” 

“I definitely think it gave me a lot of insight,” Brown reflects. When asked how the internship influenced her career plans, the junior says, “I'm still trying to figure out which avenue of civil [engineering to pursue], because I didn't realize it was so big.” She explains, “That internship gave me more of the construction management side, which I love. But now I kind of want to get more into...the field engineering side of it, seeing what that is and what that looks like. Then maybe I’ll have a better idea of what I want to do when I graduate.”