Last summer, Haley Bigando set off for what would be a “life-changing” experience, studying abroad as part of the James Mandel and Samuel Clemence Civil Engineering Internship at the Dubai Contracting Company. While collaborating with students and professionals from around the globe, she learned how civil engineering concepts apply to multimillion dollar projects, and prepared for her own future as an engineer.
You said that your experiences in Dubai were “life-changing.” What was most memorable part of the trip?
I’ve never been abroad before, so studying in another country and learning about another culture was a huge change. One day they picked us up in SUVs and we drove into the desert. It felt like a large-scale skate park when we drove up the dunes and dropped back down. We stopped at sunset, and drove down to base camp for dinner. Some of us rode camels and went sand boarding, which is basically snowboarding, but in the sand!
It sounds like you formed some close relationships while you were in Dubai. What was it like to study with students from another country?
Half of the students in the program were from the Lebanese American University. We got along with them so well; we lived together, shared our experiences, and showed each other pictures of our hometowns. We had lunch together every day in the office and it would always be something different; some of it we didn’t like, some of it we loved! It was also fun when they would teach us different phrases in Arabic.
How did you connect with executives and other engineers at the Dubai Contracting Company?
When we arrived, each department head explained what their department does. For example, we toured the planning department and then had a lecture on planning, scheduling, and how that relates to the rest of the project. We even gave presentations to the chairman of the Dubai Contracting Company, Mr. Yabroudi (’78, G’79) and he critiqued us. He pushed us to work very hard, because we jam-packed everything into four weeks.
How did studying in Dubai change the way you look at engineering?
We went on site tours around Dubai almost every other day. We started with sites where construction had just begun, and by the end of the program we were touring completely finished buildings. We were taught to pay close attention to detail and quality; now I pick up on things all the time that I never would have noticed before. Even if it’s just a sidewalk, or something that could have been designed better, I’ll notice it!
What are your plans for after graduation?
I will continue at Syracuse with my master’s degree, because I love the close-knit community here and want to get more experience in structural engineering. After graduate school, I look forward to working for The Chazen Companies as a project engineer.
What advice do you have for high school students who might be intimidated by the idea of studying abroad?
When I was preparing to apply for the study abroad program, I questioned whether to go through with it, because I’d never been abroad before. But the Dubai program is short-tem, I knew everyone going, and a professor went with us. All of that made it easier. I’m so glad I handed in my application because I will never have the chance to do something like the Dubai program again. Now I’m not afraid to travel – I want to travel more!
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