September 21, 2020

Work, Learn, Live

UMass Amherst building and construction tech students make Mount Ida Campus a better place

Joshua Cabrera ’21, a building and construction technology (BCT) student at UMass Amherst wasn’t having any luck finding a summer internship when COVID-19 struck and internships became scarcer—some were even cancelled. So Cabrera was thrilled to see a notice on the BCT job board for an internship in facilities and sustainability management at the Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst, just 12 minutes from his Boston home.

He landed the paid, for-credit internship after a Zoom interview and spent the summer taking a deep dive into the buildings and building systems at Mount Ida, working to make the campus a better, more sustainable place for students. With fellow intern Antin Lam ’21, he monitored buildings for greenhouse gases, started planning for a campus makerspace, designed dividers for desk-spaces for COVID-19 social distancing, and more. “This was a great opportunity for me to get experience that the classroom can’t give me,” Cabrera said.

New temperature sensors for Mount Ida's buildings.

Stephen Reynolds, Mount Ida campus director, supervised the interns. “At Mount Ida, our goal is to be a hub of experiential learning for all students. We want to model the behavior we hope others will exhibit; providing internship opportunities is one way we do that,” he says. “And, interns bring fresh eyes to our projects. We are always asking them, ‘What would you want as a student?’”

Both Cabrera and Lam found the internship an enlightening experience. They particularly enjoyed making and carrying out a plan to install sensors to remotely monitor Mount Ida’s buildings for temperature changes and water leaks. They determined what equipment was needed, where it should be installed, purchased the system, configured it to a network, and set up alerts. “A system like this is particularly essential now, when all campus buildings aren’t being used regularly,” points out Lam.

Lam says he was able to apply knowledge from his BCT courses, especially his education in energy usage and systems, to his internship. “I do enjoy facilities management,” he says. “I liked the opportunity to engage with different people and see how hard they are working behind the scenes. This internship definitely broadened my perspective on job opportunities in my field.”

Cabrera and Lam also earned academic credit for their internship by enrolling in a special  practicum course (BCT398), under the direction of Paul J. Wolff III, a new BCT faculty member based at Mount Ida, who mentored the students weekly, and created a series of customized learning modules linking previous coursework with real-world application of skills and knowledge in the realm of sustainable campus operations. Wolff explains, “Adding an academic component to the internship is a home-run for students; this strategy links theory with practice, and the experience is documented on the students’ official transcripts, which can distinguish them from other candidates when they apply for jobs.” 

The BCT facilities and sustainability management internship program is continuing this semester with two more students. Wolff will utilize the innovative “Work, Learn, Live” model to cultivate additional internship opportunities for BCT students with employers and construction projects located throughout the Greater Boston region.

Says Reynolds, “Mount Ida is hub of research-industry collaboration. We want to bring our students’ expertise in green building and sustainability to the community and provide more opportunities for our students to learn by doing.”