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To Intern or Not to Intern...One Intern Shares His Actual Experiences

Dan Wilson, our intern who was with us for two months this summer. Thanks for being a part of the team-we miss you!

What did you like most about your internship at VDLA?

Being in an office and a part of the team. It was nice to collaborate more with my peers in an office environment like this vs. being in more of a competitive type of environment in school with my peers.

What project did you work on that most interested you?

I would have to say the Pfizer courtyard-that I worked on with Brett Allen, an Associate and Project Manager here at the office. I was challenged with a deadline. He expected a lot of me and there was actually quite a bit of pressure which I liked as I hadn't experienced a real-life deadline up until this point. We worked on a bench design and I was able to develop the concept imagery using Sketchup. I built it to the exact dimensions of the CAD design. The design was well-received by the client which was exciting as well! The duality of working on a project with a deadline while having creative freedom really made this the most interesting project for me.

Dan hard at work in AutCAD, busy busy!

What was the most interesting thing that you did while here?

I was able to participate in a meeting for the Cays Park Master Plan which our office was very recently awarded by the City of Coronado. It was a lot of fun for me since I grew up in Coronado to be able to get in on the ground floor for a project of this size and scope. There were a lot of people there from the City and it was very cool to have the opportunity to interact with an actual client. It was the very beginning stage of the whole planning process which was very valuable for me to experience while here.

What was the most memorable things that happened while you were here?

Learning about the dynamics of the office was very memorable for me and the development of building relationships with peers. Also, having the chance to learn their strengths and getting more familiar with their management styles was valuable. I enjoyed evolving and becoming a part of the team that was really fun for me...although now I'm sad to leave since in the last couple of months I really did become a part of the team.

Who had the most influence on you when you were here and why?

I would say Brett Allen had a huge impact on me while I was here as he managed some of the more memorable projects I was involved on. He pressured me with deadlines and expectations and it was good to be given these because it made my experience more real-life. He really helped to put the job "in context" for me.

Also, I would say Nicole Macey, our Business Development and Marketing Manager, because it was really helpful to learn how to and be encouraged to develop myself professionally via building a professional network on LinkedIn. I learned how to build my profile and network not only for my personal benefit but also for the benefit of the firm at-large by having a presence in this way with a broader community. Once you make the effort to start connecting with people it really becomes an avenue to learn more about different firms and people in the industry. Marketing yourself, I learned, is very important to make the time for as connections lead to relationships and business!

Would you consider coming back to work with us after you graduate from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo?

Yes, although I do want the "big city" experience of living in San Francisco too. If that experience were presented to me I'd probably take it first. But in the long-run when I'm ready to come back to the San Diego area and be closer to family I'd love to join the VDLA team again as I had a really good experience here.

If you could change one aspect of your time here what would it be?

It think if more, shorter projects could be given that would have made it a little better only because you can learn more, quickly. In this way not only would you have more of a variety of learning experiences but also you would have the chance to learn different management styles. I was only here two months and luckily I was able to work on over 8 different project types which isn't bad!

Do you feel you really got to know the other staff members while you were with us?

Yes, but it did take time, even right now at about the two-month mark I was starting to feel more comfortable to share jokes and open up more. I think the lunches that the team did together were also fun. I really enjoyed learning about people and their interests outside of the office-they were really helpful to make me feel like part of the team early on even though I wasn't able to make all of them due to being out on-site at projects.

What was your favorite out office experience you had and why?

I have three...

Going to Ocean Hills with Brett was a lot of fun. It was most interesting on this particular project to learn more about the politics involved on a project since we really don't learn about that aspect of a job while in school. It was a good experience to learn about this part of the job, and to meet people who actually live in the community and their experience of our work and design while (yeah, driving around on the golf cart which was fun!)

Also, going out to Rancho Carillo was also a very valuable experience out of the office because it felt like a real-life exercise in gathering dimensions and inputting actual data when we got back into the office. It was nice to have this experience with two other people in the office, Denise Armijo and Nick Concra.

Finally doing the as-built of the fire station was a lot of fun-I did that with Kaitlyn Porter. It was interesting to see how it actually went in vs. how it was designed. I was nice to see this one as I know Mitch Phillippe had designed it and it was cool to see his design style.

The Solana Beach Fire Station

Where will you be going now that your internship is over?

I will be studying abroad in Castiglion in Italy through December. And yes...I will remember to send you a postcard!

How do you feel that your internship has most benefited your overall knowledge and understanding of the world of landscape architecture and design?

I think for me it was the real life experiences that you just can't experience while in school. For most projects in school you really are not presented with clients or a budget. Instead, you are given free reign more of less to give it your best effort to create the best design you can. It was huge, coming here to intern because dealing with an actual budget and client needs added more pressure on the project because if you "mess up" on the job the client really loses 5k, whereas in school you don't really see any real consequences.

Also, learning from different people here who have different backgrounds and work on vastly different projects. It was good to see the variety of projects that people in the office work on. There are contractors involved and we (as the designer) are oftentimes the center of it keeping the team on track and the client happy. It was nice to learn more about irrigation as well since there is a large irrigation department in the office.

At VDLA I learned so many different aspects of the field vs. just high design-so the holistic experience while at VDLA gave me a really broad understanding of all the different types of jobs that a person with a degree in landscape architecture could at some point take on throughout their career. Having this experience has helped me to see what direction I am more interested in going when I get into a career. Having this experience really helped me narrow in on what interests me and I appreciated that.

Does the time you spent here make you more or less excited to join the professional services design field in landscape architecture?

Yes, but there are many things that you really don't quite understand or details that you are not given information about in school-client types-how to successfully work with them, budgets and how to switch your design when the budget changes etc. However, overall, yes I'm excited at the prospect of working with a team, on a common goal, interacting with different people including the clients and having barriers to keep in mind like the budget and needs of the clients just adds a new element and challenge to the project which I do enjoy.

What did you appreciate most about interning at VDLA?

Being a part of. Having the opportunity to work on a team, on collaborative projects with an end goal, client needs, and budget was really a huge take-away for me throughout this internship experience. I also had the chance to get my hands on a lot of different job types which was also very valuable to me and I appreciate all the different project managers who took the time to include me on their projects to add to my experiences here at VDLA.

Overall, this was a HUGE experience for me. If I hadn't done an internship I would be so far behind, this really kick-started my engine and provided me a lot of new knowledge and understanding of the design field. I'm actually really excited to go back to school now and to take all things I have learned here and put that into the projects that I will work on back in my classes. I would say I learned a year's worth of knowledge here in only two months vs. being in lecture halls and classes because it was condensed.

I know that I grew a lot as a professional and as a person during my internship here. I had a lot of fun and hopefully I can come back at some point in the future. I also really appreciated learning more about both Yale Hooper, and Mitch Phillippe, both of the Principals here at VDLA. It was nice to learn more about their paths and how their careers developed having now been in their careers for over 20 and 30 years. I'm very happy they gave me the experience to intern here at VDLA, it'll be an experience I won't forget.

-Dan Wilson


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