A tale of two pipelines

Edge District

Companies in the Edge District attract top talent at K-State with a new take on internships

When the city of Hutchinson, Kansas, decided to update its wastewater treatment facility in 2018, it knew it was in for one of its biggest undertakings in 50 years. Aging materials, outdated technology and changing regulations left the city with little time to spare. Hutchinson needed the job done right — and right now.

A design-build team from Burns & McDonnell crafted a plan that married the city’s urgent risk-mitigation and compliance needs to its budget constraints and timeline. Before starting the design and construction process on the lift stations, the engineering firm carefully paved the way for success by installing a new pipeline.

Five years later, when reimagining its employee recruitment process, it once again tackled the pipeline first.

As it does with the roads, buildings and transmission systems created for its clients, Burns & McDonnell has installed the infrastructure needed for efficient results. This “talent pipeline” prompted Burns & McDonnell to join the growing list of companies claiming internship space in the Edge District bordering Kansas State University’s Manhattan campus. 

Turning on the talent flow

A diverse organization including professionals in industries ranging from engineering to construction, Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell works regularly with K-State and its students. It’s a business model it shares with other “partner tenants” that have located at the Edge to make collaboration more convenient.

The company is giving the ubiquitous internship a modern twist: a more realistic glimpse of life after college. Always a popular summer position among K-State students, the company’s internship now has the opportunity to be a year-round experience that closely mimics the professional environment found in the industry today.

Of Burns & McDonnell’s 715 summer interns nationwide in 2023, Wildcats had the largest representation at 8% of the program. That’s not out of the ordinary for Burns & McDonnell, which extends full-time offers to many interns after graduation. K-State students tend to have what the company is looking for, mainly due to the strength of the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering.

“We’re investing in the future of our firm and community,” said John Scott, a project engineer at Burns & McDonnell. “Recruiting has always been part of what we do, but we knew we wanted to do more. We’re always looking for top talent — in all forms of engineering — and it’s a very competitive market for the quality and quantity we need.”

For its first cohort of year-round interns, the company retained 12 of its summer K-State interns. Job roles vary widely across Burns & McDonnell’s 10 global practices, and interns can be found in eight of them. Students in the transmission and distribution group are working on electrical substations, while those in the environmental services group are busy designing landfills that meet strict permitting requirements. In the transportation group, interns are helping the company develop railroad infrastructure.

Because most projects can’t be completed in two months, summer interns often have to leave or enter mid-project. Without that time constraint, the new intern experience is much more comprehensive.

“They basically train during the summer and at the end they’re ready to take that next step to an assignment that’s a little more difficult,” Scott said. “Now they get to stay engaged in a project from start to finish, and that experience will give them an advantage over other grads.”

Adjusting to the pressure

Gabi Fitterer, a grad student and intern, designs buildings for a water treatment facility from her desk at the Burns & McDonnell Student Success Center in the Edge.

Browsing a career fair earlier in the year, she felt the same pressure described by Scott. Any old internship wasn’t good enough — she needed the right internship to properly jump start her career. After chatting with a representative from the company, Fitterer knew Burns & McDonnell was the perfect fit.

But she wasn’t alone.

“It’s definitely a very competitive process,” Fitterer said. “It’s a big achievement to say I’m interning for a company as well-known as Burns & McDonnell, especially here at K-State with our engineering school.”

Now pursuing a master’s degree, Fitterer is keen to apply all she’s learned to her chosen profession.

“It’s been so valuable to be able to continue my work throughout the semester,” she said. “This internship has allowed me to flip-flop between classes and the office, and the crossover between the two is really interesting to see.” 

Fitterer has also been able to take a deeper dive into her project with the company’s water global practice.

“You’d be surprised at how much is involved in these types of projects,” she said. “A lot of the work is in administration buildings, and it’s been really cool to see how far you can actually take the design of a water treatment plant.”

Achieving excellence

Its talent pipeline is up and running, but Burns & McDonnell knows it has to play the long game to keep a steady flow. That’s why it will continue to scout out university career fairs, but also plan STEM activities for kids. Its calendar is full, but the schedule is unlikely to rival its interns’.

“I’m always impressed, looking at their resumes, at how much more today’s students do in their short college careers,” Scott said. “Study abroad, multiple internships, volunteer work and student organization commitments — it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”

Burns & McDonnell simply wants to add “unrivaled career prep” to that list.

*First published in the winter 2023 K-Stater magazine.

Learn more

Learn how you can edge out the competition by engineering your own talent pipeline at K-State.

Contact Sherilyn McRell, director of operations, for more information.

Sherilyn McRell

Sherilyn McRell Director of Operations


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