Career Beginnings: A Review of Our 2019 Internship Program, By Our Interns

Now that the dog days of summer are over, we’ve been saying our goodbyes to our amazing summer interns.

This year, Toole Design summer interns spent 8 to 12 weeks working alongside our staff of landscape architects, planners, and engineers in our 17 offices across the country. Our interns don’t fetch coffee or sort mail – they use their talents to aid us in our work in communities across the country.

Jamie Lerner, Director of Human Resources

“Interning at Toole Design shows you what it’s like to be passionate about your work,” said Jamie Lerner, Director of Human Resources. “Interning here is a unique opportunity to do meaningful and challenging work on projects that make a difference, while working with incredibly talented innovators in our field.”

In 2019, our interns worked on a diverse range of projects that help them build their knowledge about planning, engineering, design, communication, and operations. They got first-hand experience on various tasks including analyzing survey data for a pedestrian master plan, going on walk audits, developing graphics for intersection designs, map-making, and conducting marketing analysis.

Preparing for professional life

In addition to work experience, we also wanted to make sure that our interns built their professional skills as well. Job seeking can sometimes be exhausting, and we want our interns to be well prepared for future opportunities. This summer, we invited our HR team to join our final intern meeting to offer some tips for interns’ preparation, regarding what they expect from an ideal candidate, through resumes, cover letters, phone screens, and interviews.

Building team work and collaboration

There are two summer group projects this year, which encourage interns to navigate their own research paths, explore current topics in the transportation industry, and work as a team. Our group of 9 interns formed two groups to work with their peers across the country.

Pete Robie, Visualization Practice Lead

“The group project gives interns a chance to explore broad technical issues related to consulting in our field,” said Pete Robie, Visualization Practice lead, who served as the Internship advisor for 2019. “It encourages them to develop their own approach to each topic, assign roles to team members as needed, and collaborate with other members across the country.”

This summer, interns were asked to answer two questions – “What is the future of transportation?” and “How will micromobility change the way we think about active transportation?”

The future of transportation project was a purposefully broad topic, covering everything including land use, autonomous vehicles, climate change, the role of online retail services in shaping the transportation systems, public-private partnership-funded infrastructure, and mobile technology. Using multiple resources, such as literature review, case studies, and interviews with Toole Design’s transportation professionals, the team sketched a big picture of an intelligent transportation system in the future.

The micromobility team took a holistic look at the impact of micromobility on the transportation network, and how transportation professionals can update their ideas about street design to include shared-electric assist The team’s research covered various topics including the dispersion of shared modes, the integration of micromobility with transit, future funding models of micromobility, cultural issues behind micromobility, and its impact on public health and safety.

Our interns presented their findings to office and department directors at their regularly scheduled meeting on August 9th, where each team delivered a 15-minute presentation, followed by Q&As.

Let’s hear from the interns!

That’s a lot to pack into three short summer months. So – what do our 2019 interns say about their experiences here at Toole Design? We asked Kerry Aszklar, Eric Davis, and Wency Zhang for their thoughts.

Kerry Asklar, Portland Intern
Wency Zhang, DC Communications Intern
Eric Davis, Columbus Intern



Q: In general, how was your experience as an intern while here? What have you enjoyed most working as an intern here?

Kerry: My experience as an intern here was great. I felt comfortable with a small office setting, which allowed me to jump right in to projects. I’ve enjoyed the mixture of hands-on work experiences, such as map-making, attending stakeholder meetings, and putting together an RFP, in addition to the group internship project with other Toole Design interns across the country.  It’s been a good balance of getting involved with Toole projects, while also taking the lead on other things, such as coordinating our office Parking Day installation and conducting research.

Eric: My experience working here at Toole Design was simply phenomenal. Being able to directly use what I learnt in school, on the job was amazing. I learned so much in the span of three months for creating school travel plans, going on walk audits, and creating maps through QGIS. Not only was I doing what I love, I was able to spread that passion outside the walls of the office by being able to go out in the field and put to use what I learned in the office.

Wency: One thing that I love about this internship is that they assigned to me a very clear, detailed, challenging, and accomplishable workplan from day one – it was great because I didn’t need to worry about just sitting there and not knowing what I should be doing. Instead, I knew clearly what I can put onto the table via a systematic approach…There is no such thing called “I am an intern, so everything I do should wait for approval before it goes out” – if they think it’s a good idea, they’ll take it without hesitation. Also, an internship is different from your school life, where sometimes you just work on a single project the entire day. In a workplace, you actually need to tackle multiple tasks simultaneously, so knowing how to prioritize things is very important.

Q: What kind(s) of project/research have you most enjoyed working on while here?

Kerry: The projects/research that I find most interesting are how people are using multi-modal facilities and infrastructure. We all have different travel habits and behaviors, which I think we should be incorporating into our facilities designs. A 13-year-old girl bikes differently than a 40-year-old commuter than a 70-year-old retiree.

Wency: I am a research-oriented person, who enjoys deep diving into evidence and data, exploring potential correlation, and come up with new ideas and solutions, so when I was asked to conduct a communication strategic plan for the remainder of 2019 in my first months, I was more than thrilled – I conducted market research, communication content review, keyword strategy, and a detailed work plan, and the experience of looking into the metrics of our KPIs was just amazing…Also, this is probably what I can never learn at school – being able to take one step further from imagination to reality, thinking about what is accomplishable, and taking care of raw data and real challenges.

Kerry: Additionally, projects that incorporate transportation equity are important to me, personally and professionally. It was great to see Toole Design recently release the National Scan of Bike Share Equity Programs with Portland State University (my alma mater!).  There are many social injustices, and transportation professionals have the opportunity to provide more travel options that are affordable, without people’s fear getting hurt or treated badly. Projects that acknowledge and address transportation inequities through multi-modal solutions are those that I find both challenging and rewarding.

Q: What did you think about the group project? What have you learnt from it?

Kerry: My group project was about micromobility and how that fits in with active transportation. At first, it felt like a very broad topic, but my fellow teammates and I were thorough in our research and coordinated roles to make it easier. I also found it enjoyable that the five of us came into the project with different perspectives on micromobility based on our backgrounds – engineering, human geography, urban planning, sustainability – which made it interesting.

Eric: For my group project we talked about micromobility. Overall, I learned about micromobility in a greater way, and how it relates to Health and Safety, Street planning and Design, Equity, and Rural vs. Urban.

Wency: One thing that I love this future of transportation project is that it gives you an opportunity to explore how technology and multiple social groups interact with each other, and how this affect consultants to do business in the future.

Q: Has your internship changed or confirmed your outlook for future career positions? Did you find the HR tips helpful?

Kerry: My internship has shifted my career direction. While I know I want to plan and implement more bicycle and pedestrian facilities to encourage people to travel more sustainably and socially, now I understand the broader, multi-modal career opportunities that also contribute to this work.

Eric: Going into this internship, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to pursue as a career path. However, now I know exactly what I want to do. I have a passion for helping others and making maps.

Kerry: Also, the career preparation and HR tips were helpful! I wasn’t expecting that from Toole Design, but as someone who’s just starting their career, it’s important. The career preparation and HR tips have raised the bar for what I expect from future employers regarding employee professional development.

Q: What makes you want to work at Toole Design? How did this journey start?

Wency: I personally have a lot to comment on this question. To be honest, I was a communication student, and I didn’t know much about the transportation industry when I first started looking for internship opportunities…it all started with the blog post ‘Can You Care as a Consultant’, which was written by Tamika Butler, by the time when she first joined us earlier this year. One thing she mentioned was very inspiring: “People are depending us to do this work with great care and compassion, to be thoughtful about the past and look equitably to the future.” I was aware of the concern in the tech industry that people have become an afterthought in the past decades, and her article shows an emotion side of a tech company that is mission-driven, and cares about humanity…That’s when I started following Toole Design’s social media – I knew this would be where I’ll have shared value with others.

Q: Anything else?

Kerry: Nothing else to add, except that I’d like to work for Toole Design again in the future!

Calling Future Interns!

Are you looking for internship opportunities? Does this sound like something you’d be interested in?

Well, before everything gets started, here are some tips from our HR team:

“To get the most out of your internship, put a lot in! Put in the time, listen to advice and tips and, most importantly, ask questions! Use this as an opportunity to learn from others and form mentorships. Challenge yourself to think about what you’re learning, and don’t be afraid to ask for more, do more, and try more, and go outside of your comfort zone.”

You can find more information about internships at Toole Design here.

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