December 18 2020
Entuitive Co-op Diaries: Madison Alexander
At Entuitive, we have a great team of creative, collaborative, and advanced people, and that includes our talented co-op students. In this post by Madison Alexander, Designer, we hear about his experience during his work term with us. Read the other posts in this series here and here.
Take it away, Madison.
The life of a professional within the AEC industry is a fast-paced one, and being a co-op student is no exception. Working through four-month periods jumping back and forth between educational semesters and work semesters over the last half-decade has made my journey seem like a blur at times. It is rare that we are offered an opportunity to sit back and reflect on the past, and even rarer to write about the experience.
To date, I have completed 10 co-op terms over my 6+ year tenure as an undergraduate level student at the University of Waterloo. You may wonder why it has taken me so long to finish my undergrad, or why I have had so many co-op terms – it is a long story. To this point I will do my best to summarize.
In the beginning, it involves leaving home for the first time and moving from a high school class of 40 to sitting in lecture halls with over 200 students. Having never really been pushed in high school, I soon failed all of my mid-term exams in my first semester of university as a geological engineering student and was forced to fall back a year. At that point, I deeply questioned whether or not I was really cut out to become a professional engineer one day. My first co-op job was that of a quality control lab technician for a polyurethane manufacturing company. If you thought compression testing for concrete was boring – try doing so for thousands of small blocks of foam.
Wait, foam? Yes…think of the sponge sitting beside your kitchen sink!
For my second co-op job, I moved to Ottawa to find that the apartment I was supposed to rent was a scam, and I was left in a position without any money trying to figure out how to live and start a new job while being further from home than I ever had been before. I later found myself cheating on my dying love for geology with my newfound passion for structures. So, I switched programs and fell back another year.
From there, it never really got any easier, but I became significantly more resilient. To say all this is not to ask for sympathy – but I do want to say to my fellow co-op students attempting to make their way through the rankings in this hyper-competitive space: Do not give up. While the experience is challenging, it is also rewarding, and I assure you that you will come out better in the end than you started at the beginning.
Now, having worked for half a dozen companies, and having collaborated closely with dozens more, I can confidently say that Entuitive is among the absolute best employers to intern at, and they are certainly at the top of my books. Entuitive manages to maintain the intimate feeling of working for a small company, cultivate ennovative spirit, and deliver quality solutions to clients in a multi-disciplinary international space. At the core of this success is exceptional leadership and an exceptional company culture.
The single biggest factor in my continued career pursuit at Entuitive has been access to, and mentorship from, senior leadership within the company.
In previous co-op experiences, I was often made to feel like I was “just an intern.” It is hard to describe what that feeling is exactly, but if you have experienced it before I am sure you will know what I mean. It is instances where you enter a big meeting and are introduced as “the intern” and then not taken seriously by others at the table. It is instances where you might have an idea and are immediately shut down because you can’t possibly know how to do something better as “just an intern.” It is also instances when you might be ignored by senior level staff because you are just a temporary employee and will likely be gone four months down the road.
The “just an intern” factor does not apply to Entuitive. Senior staff, while usually very busy, are still willing to chat and offer advice wherever they can, and this goes a long way towards making an intern feel like they are respected and a real part of the company. I look back on chats with leaders like Matt Smith and Tanya Luthi, when I was encouraged to pursue timber design work. Or further chats with leaders like Blaine Jansen and Tony Ringl, when I was encouraged to continue pursuing Computational Design.
Another great example is when I was at the end of my second co-op term with Entuitive and was trying to get a part-time contract arranged before going back to school. This was at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. At that time, a great deal of financial insecurity was looming over the local AEC industry as lockdowns first began in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), but my old desk mate Brian Stonehouse made sure that I didn’t fall between the cracks. To all the outstanding leaders at Entuitive, thank you so much for your support.
Since first starting at Entuitive, I have worked for the Structural Restoration group in Toronto, the Technology Department, the Structural Design group in Vancouver, as well as collaborating with the Sustainable Performance Group. Where I was willing to invest in Entuitive by working towards developing my skillset in different areas, Entuitive showed me that they were willing to return the investment by allowing me the flexibility to move around within the company and try different things. As a co-op student, there is truly so much that you will be exposed to and be able to learn while working for Entuitive.
I have taken part in structural condition assessments for numerous parking structures, masonry assets, as well as hospital buildings, care homes, and many other pieces of critical infrastructure in the GTA. I have conducted detailed computational structural modelling for several different art installation projects in the West Coast region. I have designed a timber house in Revelstoke, planned to hold over 6kPa of snow on its roof in the peak of winter. I have worked closely with Entuitive’s marketing team to showcase up and coming computational design initiatives within Entuitive, as well as highlighting some of the exceptional comp work already being completed by our designers in different markets. I have led a training session focused on generative design optimization in structural engineering. I have also contributed heavily towards developing new structural automation and environmentally focused tools, as well as the Auto-Warehouse grasshopper script.
To conclude, if you are a co-op student thinking about applying for a position at Entuitive, I highly recommend that you do so. Thank you again to all my fellow colleagues who have inspired and encouraged me to date. I look forward to continuing my career with Entuitive post-graduation.