Shaping the Future: Professional Development in the AEC Industry

Shaping the Future: Professional Development in the AEC Industry

Facilitating an Externship Program for Three Students from the Boston Architectural College

February 6, 2024

I recently had the pleasure of hosting a group of college students for a week-long externship at Gannett Fleming. The Practice Connex externship program pairs students at Boston Architectural College (BAC), where I serve as an adjunct professor, with architecture and design firms for a full week of professional practice immersion.

This experience was not just an opportunity to share knowledge but also to witness the emerging talents in the field of architecture. Read on to learn about our week together, which was filled with practical learning, creative exploration, and a deep dive into the complexities and joys of architecture.

Day 1: A Walk Through Boston Provides Opportunity for Emerging AEC Professionals

Our journey began with a meet and greet in the Gannett Fleming office, where we discussed the integrated nature of our architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firm. A tour of downtown Boston followed. We explored the city’s architecture and pointed out some iconic buildings and enjoyable historic spots, including the Boston Common, Old City Hall, new Boston City Hall, and the New England Holocaust Memorial.

We talked about brutalist architecture and how to redesign large mid-century plazas to make them more usable. I was impressed with the students’ appreciation of historic and modern architecture and the integration of both that they observed in the city. Throughout the day, we discussed the history of architecture, its evolution, and its impact on society.


The three BAC students had not met each other before, and each came to the externship with different backgrounds and experiences. Before I continue, let me introduce you to these emerging AEC industry professionals.

Rodolfo Botteri is a fifth-year architecture student at BAC. With interests in sustainable, salutogenic, and biophilic design, this was his second BAC externship.

Julia de Lima has participated in many design classes as a first-year architecture student at BAC. However, this was the first time she experienced a design workplace.

Devangi Patel earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture in India and is pursuing her master’s degree at BAC. Devangi completed an internship in India and was very excited to see how this opportunity compared.

“I had the chance to get to know, work together, and enjoy my time at Gannett Fleming with Devangi and Rodolfo,” said de Lima. “All three of us come from different backgrounds, allowing us to listen to and understand new points of view regarding projects, school life, career goals, and architecture .”

Day 2: Exploring the MBTA Project and Insights from Industry Leaders

As the week progressed, the students participated in hands-on learning, asked thoughtful questions, and attended client meetings, including a deep dive into a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Agency (MBTA) project on Day 2. This project aims to modernize 42 communications rooms along the Red and Orange Lines, providing upgrades to enhance safety and redundancy.

Gannett Fleming is currently in the final stages of the design process and gearing up for construction. With client permission, students had the opportunity to observe our scheduled MBTA station owner meeting, gaining insight into real-world architectural processes and the project management of large, complex projects.

“The firm’s collaborative spirit was clear during our gathering with clients and a broad staff. Colleagues collaborated with comfort, highlighting the value of clear communication while establishing an environment where thoughtful conversations were encouraged,” said Patel. “This collaborative approach is a simple mindset that defines the way they operate at the firm.”

“We got to see the professional and kind way in which the discussions went, allowing everyone to speak and give honest opinions in order to develop the project,” added Botteri.

Day 3: A Talk with Team Members to Discuss the Business Side of an Architecture Firm

A meeting with Gannett Fleming Architectural Operations Manager Stephen Lis, AIA, CID, provided invaluable industry insights, covering topics from the firm’s portfolio to the business aspects of the profession, such as strong client relationships, effective operations of an architecture firm, and the economics of running a successful company.

“Steve gave our team valuable perspectives on a variety of projects, including both private and state-funded ones, which resulted in valuable learning experiences,” said Patel.

“In the meeting, we were shown multiple projects that the firm worked on, such as renovations and new buildings. Some projects that inspired me were the lab buildings because they explained how the architectural design is related to the machines, HVAC, and other functional aspects,” stated Botteri.

Day 4: Sharing my Passion with Emerging AEC Professionals

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is an area I am passionate about, so I was excited to talk to the students about the impact that this type of urban growth can have on the maximization of residential, business, and leisure spaces within walking distance of public transport.

My colleagues and I used this opportunity to introduce the externs to zoning laws, density concepts, and the integration of technology and sketching to support the articulation of their thoughts. The students then enjoyed creating a board that conveyed their understanding and ideas about TOD.

The externs embarked on a hypothetical exploration of potential locations for new developments strategically situated near MBTA stations. I challenged them to consider the creation of vibrant mixed-use communities where individuals seamlessly live, work, and play.

With careful consideration, de Lima selected a location near Swampscott commuter rail station. Botteri, faced with the challenge of bridging the gap between the proposed development and Alewife T Station, diligently engineered walkways, bikeways, and streets to connect the two separated areas. Patel meticulously examined a site near Needham Station, carefully studying the site and zoning codes, focusing on the businesses that the new development could support.

Later in the day, we had a detailed session on construction documents. This provided a practical understanding of the architectural design and planning process with public facilities. We also delved into the intricacies of tunnels, utility rooms, fan rooms, and cross passageways, enhancing the group’s understanding of large-scale infrastructure projects.

Day 5: Concluding with a Design Showcase

The final day was a reflective session. Nothing compares to on-site learning, so after breakfast and a candid talk with the students about their future career dreams and their externship experiences, we walked to South Station. This offered a practical view of the MBTA project, where we talked more about transit project safety, tunnels, and communication rooms. Day 5 also included a pin-up session in the office, where students displayed their TOD work.

Later in the day, students presented their work and shared their experience with the other participating firms and BAC peers, architectural department faculty, and guests during the Practice ConnEx Showcase and Celebration. Seeing how much they had learned and grown in just a week was a proud moment.

Bright Futures Ahead

Hosting this Boston Architectural College externship was a reminder of the responsibility we hold as established professionals to nurture and guide the next generation. Professional development in the AEC industry is continuous and the experience also enriched me. The students’ enthusiasm, creativity, and eagerness to learn were inspiring. As they continue their architectural journey, I am confident they will shape not just buildings but also the future of our communities.

To all aspiring architects: Your journey is just beginning, and the world of architecture awaits your innovation and passion. Continue to learn, explore, and dream big!

At Gannett Fleming, we are developing the next generation of innovators and leaders. Learn more about internships and early-career roles and join our talent community.

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Senior Project Architect
370 246 Linda Smith
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