Investing in young people is an investment in the future and one that we at AECOM feel is very important to the community in Phoenix that we are serving. Providing new transit options not only provides people with low-cost access to employment, education and recreation, but also offers new opportunities for communities that they serve. This is especially true in Phoenix, Arizona, where the South Central Light Rail Extension (LRT)/Downtown Hub – currently under construction and slated for a 2023 completion – is already connecting these communities with economic and educational opportunities through the South Central LRT high school internship program.

AECOM partnered with a local transit agency, Valley Metro Rail, Inc. (VMR), to develop the internship program that dates from a startup endeavor in May 2017 and ran through the two years where AECOM led the South Central LRT project’s design phase. Approximately 25 students participated in the program which took place in June and July and consisted of eight daylong sessions.

During the program’s weekly sessions, the students – mainly high school sophomores and juniors – had hands on experiences in planning and design. In one week, students were divided into teams and used Autocad software to design and build model bridges. They then competed to see which bridge could hold the most weight. In another session, the students had the opportunity to speak in-depth with AECOM engineering interns who are from similar backgrounds and are now seniors in civil engineering colleges.

Prior to the program, the students had no exposure to engineering or planning and little concept of what these professions were about. The weekly sessions provided insight and made the possibility of careers in these fields seem within reach, a major achievement for students who came from schools in the South Phoenix area a greatly underserved area that has limited resources. The hands-on experience, exposure to the AECOM interns and engineering and planning professionals working on the South Central project opened students’ eyes to new possibilities of careers in the planning and engineering professions. One student, a senior in 2018, is now attending engineering school at Arizona State University.

The students were also introduced to leaders from the City of Phoenix, VMR and several community partners who discussed careers in design, engineering, planning and public service. College application assistance, financial aid counseling, ongoing mentoring and a $1,000 stipend were also provided to the program participants. The internship culminated at a graduation celebration at South Mountain Community College.

Investing in the communities in which we work is an important part of the work that we do and I’m proud we were able to introduce these students to our professions. This was a team effort and I want to give a shout out to my teammate Janet Yeow, our lead design manager, who organized the activities.

The program had been approved to run for a third year, but unfortunately was cancelled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. I look forward to participating in the South Central LRT program once it resumes and always welcome the opportunity to give back to the Phoenix community and future designers, engineers and planners.

Originally published 05.27.2020