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Civil engineering student’s ambition pays big dividends in experience

Adrienne Cornwall and Kaitor Kposowa | Nov 4, 2013
Nick Sparks
Nick Sparks seized the opportunity to gain professional experiencePhoto by Rebecca Miller

Civil engineering student’s ambition pays big dividends in experience

Adrienne Cornwall and Kaitor Kposowa | Nov 4, 2013
Nick Sparks seized the opportunity to gain professional experience
Nick Sparks seized the opportunity to gain professional experience Photo by Rebecca Miller


When the Walter Fieldhouse project broke ground this summer, junior civil engineering major Nick Sparks saw a big opportunity on the horizon.

“Nick actually showed up on the job site one day asking if he could help out,” said David Stanton, project superintendent for builder Turner Construction. “I wanted to get students involved, and Nick wanted to be involved. So it was a perfect time for him to get in.”

Ever since, Sparks has been shadowing the Stanton to gain experience in construction management while the multipurpose athletics and recreation facility is erected on South Green Drive behind Peden Stadium. The 89,000-square-foot facility will feature a turf field surrounded by a running track, state of the art LED lights, an under-slab radiant heating system for internal heat and 10-foot overhead doors for flood control.

On a schedule of about 10 volunteer hours per week, Sparks has the opportunity to document, through photographs, the phases of the project, while interacting with foremen to help with deliveries and bring to Stanton’s attention any issues that need to be resolved.

For Sparks, this on-the-job training, although unpaid and without academic credit, is priceless to a future construction engineer, he says.

“It’s going to help me because a lot of the things my classes are teaching me, I’m seeing them applied now,” he explained. “Having this experience, I’m just a step ahead. I already know some of the problems that could occur on site, how to solve some of the problems, and the things to expect to happen.”

When he pursues a co-op assignment with Turner next year, that hands-on work will be just as appealing to his potential employer, Stanton said.

“His resume will definitely get to the top of the stack, considering his effort to get in here without being paid. That’s huge for us. It shows his commitment,” said Stanton, who recently coordinated a site visit for 80 OHIO civil engineering students, to give them a firsthand look at large-scale construction management.

Because he’d only studied construction concepts thus far, Sparks said this experience has taught him to learn on the fly.

“I was unsure of a lot of things, like hearing people talk about comm lines and having no idea what a comm line is. So I’d come back to the trailer, go through the plans and see, ‘Oh, so, this what a comm line is,’” he said. “I’m just trying to pick up on things, while everyone else has already been doing them for a while.”

Besides the practical experience it offers, his work on the fieldhouse project has reaffirmed Sparks’s love of construction.

“Ever since I was a kid, I loved building,” he said. “I loved playing with my Legos. Watching a massive steel structure being built it in front of your eyes, there’s just something very interesting about it that intrigues me.”