Intern insight: How a passion for the outdoors is shaping an intern’s career path

Leah Harazin is a student at Michigan Technological University who found her dream role outside of the typical office setting.

By: Leah Harazin

Ever since I was young, I’ve had a passion for the outdoors. When I chose to pursue an Environmental Engineering degree, I knew that the ability to work outside would be a requirement for me and my career. The opportunity to be in the fresh air almost every day, explore, and learn about everything that surrounds me was – and still is – my dream.

I first heard about Atwell when they attended Michigan Technological University’s career fair in September 2021. They were friendly, caring, and talked to me like a professional – not just a number to satisfy their quota. The leaders I talked to spoke highly of the company. Even as an intern, Woody Siddall, Director of Talent Acquisition, asked what I wanted for my future to see if Atwell could help me achieve that goal. Woody didn’t make me feel obligated to fit within the posted job description, and instead, a job was designed for me based on my own interests and passions. After that, I knew I wanted to join Atwell for a summer internship.

Before joining the Atwell team, my leader asked what my ideal dream job would be. I told them I would love to spend 80% of my time outdoors and 20% in an office. Since starting my internship in May (except for the month of June for my military training), I have been outdoors every single day.  I have traveled across all of Michigan administering tests to classify land as wetlands and even stayed in Indiana for two weeks performing post-construction monitoring services. I had hands-on experience with wetland delineations, soil erosion and sediment control, and identifying and documenting plants. I learned about different aspects of hydrology, vegetation, and soil that I would have never known or noticed before – like how a chicory plant is used to make coffee and how the wintergreen plant is used for essential oils and flavoring like in wintergreen mints!

One of my most memorable work trips this past summer was a last-minute trip to Lexington, Michigan. For those who have never been to Lexington, it is a small, charming harbor village on the shore of Lake Huron. For four workdays, we delineated a site crossing over two county lines, which included mapping water bodies, water courses, agricultural drains/ditches, plant identification, and soil identification to determine if the area is a wetland. For the three nights we were there, and during my free time, I was able to kayak to explore the lake and unwind.

Throughout the summer, I have been a part of multiple projects. With our services typically taking two to four days for each project, I was always learning something new. The most interesting, and difficult, project I worked on was a potential solar farm in Michigan. This project was a sand mine, where the owner used the property to dig and sell sand causing water to backfill the sites. I was responsible for delineating the area and it was a rather large site with the most diverse vegetation and environment I have worked on yet.

Toward the end of my summer internship, I started my 20% in-office time. I expressed interest in learning about CAD software, and Atwell provided the tools I needed – a temporary license and an instructional guide – to explore the ins and outs of the program.

Having the option to work in the field and in the office is just one of many examples of why internships are instrumental for your career – it allows you to explore different avenues within your industry to see what you like and dislike before entering the professional world full-time. This past summer, I realized that my ideal job is working outdoors 95% of the time instead of 80%. I also realized that my teammates had a huge impact on me, and I was grateful to have inspiring leaders that saw me as an equal. I had the privilege to work with teammates of all ages and experiences this summer to help me paint a path of my ideal career progression. I am proud to say that I plan to extend my internship with Atwell until the end of the year, and I look forward to learning so much more about environmental engineering from subject matter experts.

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