Business Major Interns with Construction Office
Cadet intern Dakota Nicely ’15 worked with a National Guard REDHORSE squadron on projects at McKethan Park. -- VMI Photo by H. Lockwood McLaughlin.
LEXINGTON, Va., Aug. 5, 2014 – There is no better teacher than hands-on experience.
Cadet Dakota Nicely ’15 recently learned that lesson. He spent the summer working as an intern with the VMI construction office and was on hand as the Virginia Air National Guard’s 203rd REDHORSE Squadron helped erect a pavilion and a latrine at McKethan Park.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Nicely. “I’ve learned a lot.”
The purpose of the REDHORSE – Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers– squadron’s McKethan Park project was to help maintain its members’ military occupational skills and, in turn, to facilitate the training of VMI cadets. Users of the facility will include not only the Corps, but also Virginia National Guard units, law enforcement organizations, and community organizations.
“He [Nicely] got very involved in the McKethan Park project,” said Karen Austin, who was contracted by VMI from WW Associates to serve as a construction project manager. “At first, he was interfacing with Col. [Keith] Gibson [’77] about an information sign for the pavilion and assisting with the budget; then [he] got into it hands on, helping the Guard build.”
That’s when his real education began. While he got his hands dirty, literally, Nicely also took the opportunity to soak up as much knowledge as he could during the four weeks that he worked on the project.
“I [took] in everything they said,” said the 1st Class cadet from Clifton Forge, Va. “Whenever they were doing something new, I wanted to be there listening.”
Nicely arrived at McKethan Park in a rather roundabout, and unlikely, way. He is a business and economics major, but over the last few years, he has developed an affection for the construction business, particularly the management side. He inquired about a possible internship with the construction department; Col. Dale Brown, the director of construction, offered him a position. Nicely realized that he couldn’t pass up the chance.
“Playing football here, I knew that if I got a job here I would be able to work out with the football team,” said Nicely, who saw playing time as a backup linebacker last season. “I figured I couldn’t beat the opportunity to have a paid internship, work close to home, and be able to work out with the football team.”
Before heading out to McKethan Park, Nicely was introduced to the construction business through some other jobs on post: repairs to the stoops in New Barracks, waterproofing of the roof on Old Barracks, and planning for construction of a Leadership Reaction Course and maintenance building at North Post.
“He’s a business major, so he had little exposure to construction projects,” Austin explained. “His real duty was to learn, absorbing everything he could about construction jobs and their management.”
Nicely gradually took on more as the summer progressed, however. Austin said that at first, Nicely just attended project meetings, where he learned about writing briefs and preparing agendas. Later, Nicely conducted a staff briefing and a project meeting, and he aided Austin by developing a spreadsheet to track submittals and keep track of the progress on the stoop project in barracks. He even stood in for an inspector on one occasion. On the Military Leadership Field Training Grounds Project, Nicely arranged for some training supplies from Fort Pickett.
Austin admitted that Nicely still has a great deal to learn about construction management, but his experience this summer was invaluable.
“Construction projects are complex, even the small ones,” she said, adding that his experience was “a great way to see how projects work and how the work is organized to occur smoothly and efficiently.”
As it turns out, Nicely’s summer internship had one more perk he wasn’t counting on. It also connected him with a long-lost family member.
His first cousin, whom he had not seen in four years, was a member of the National Guard squadron and spent two weeks working on the McKethan Park project. Nicely relished the chance to reconnect with him.
“We were about to start the meeting to kick off the project, and I got a text from my cousin,” said Nicely. “He asked if I was going to be in Lexington this summer because his National Guard unit was going to help build a shelter. I told him that’s my project. He pulled up five minutes later. It was cool to hang out with him for two weeks.”
It was educational as well.