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Corps of Engineers student trainee heads to med school

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District
Published June 28, 2021
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers student trainee Sophie McConkey stands in front of the Burns Harbor as it transits the Poe Lock in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. on June 3, 2021. McConkey is an Industrial Hygienist-Intern with the Soo Area Office and is heading to medical school in the fall of 2021.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers student trainee Sophie McConkey stands in front of the Burns Harbor as it transits the Poe Lock in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. on June 3, 2021. McConkey is an Industrial Hygienist-Intern with the Soo Area Office and is heading to medical school in the fall of 2021.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich., -A Lake Superior State University graduate is gaining valuable work experience with the U.S. Corps of Engineers’ Soo Area Office as an Industrial Hygienist-Intern before heading to medical school this fall.

Sophie McConkey, a local to the Sault Ste. Marie area, found out about the Corps of Engineers’ student trainee internship through a friend of the family. She applied for the position in early 2020 as a chance to work in a field directly related to her degree and that offered her a chance to grow professionally in her area of study at Lake Superior State University.

During an interview with Sophie about her time with the Corps of Engineers and her student trainee internship, she answered the following questions:

What is a student trainee?

A student trainee is an individual who is getting exposure in a professional workplace environment while working towards their degree. My time as a student trainee has taught me a lot about balancing my educational life and a work life. It has allowed me to gain exposure to so many different professional areas and created an opportunity for me to explore what I wanted to do after completing my education. I had no idea how many different jobs and specialties there were with the Corps of Engineers. The student trainee program gave me the chance to apply what I was learning in school and be sure about what I wanted to do after finishing school while still enrolled in classes.

How did your college classes prepare you for your role as an Industrial Hygienist-Intern?

My college classes at Lake Superior State University prepared me for my current position in more ways than I expected. All my courses provided me with skills that were applicable and usable while on the job. In some classes I was learning about proper environmental sampling techniques and testing procedures while I spent a large amount of time learning about microorganisms like bacteria and viruses in others. In some of my favorite classes I was learning about human anatomy, chronic illness, and the spread of disease which all helped me to appreciate and aid the Soo Area Office health prevention program in its goal of keeping employees healthy and safe, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. My classes really played an essential part in helping me to grow and progress in my current role as an Industrial Hygienist-Intern.

How did your internship help you with your classes in college?

My internship provided me the chance to see science and medicine incorporated into a real work environment. The information I was learning was not just text in a book anymore, the information was able to be applied to real people and work settings which allowed me to learn from a whole different perspective.

What does a typical day look like for you with the Corps of Engineers?

Honestly, every day is different and that’s what I love about it. I get to spend time in the office working to maintain our administrative duties in addition to working out in the field and completing environmental sampling and studies. I always have the chance to jump in on new projects and tasks, so I am constantly learning and being exposed to new things which is fantastic. I really can’t predict what each day will look like and that always makes for an awesome learning experience.

What has been your favorite part about working for the Corps of Engineers?

My favorite part about working here has been learning what the Corps of Engineers does. Before I was hired, I had no idea what all went on at the Soo Locks and did not have a good understanding of what kind of jobs were even available here. The biggest eye opener for me was being able to experience what all goes on when the shipping season ends. Seeing all that goes into planning and carrying out winter work was incredible. I am honestly still amazed over a year later by all that the Soo Area Office and Corps of Engineers do.

What have you learned working here that you will take with you in future jobs?

The biggest thing I will take with me will be the professional skills that I have gained while employed at the Soo Area Office. The ability to communicate and work with so many different employees and learn about what they do and see how their skills contribute to the overall mission of the Corps of Engineers will help me in every job setting that I am in from here on out. Knowing who you work with and how they do what they do is essential to maintaining a functional team.

I will also take the new knowledge I have about preventative medicine with me. In my time here at the Soo Area Office I have learned so much about preventing chronic disease and safe workplace conditions and practices that I will absolutely take with me as I go onto treat and educate patients as a physician. 

What are your plans after your student trainee internship?

I was accepted into Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. I will attend medical school in Grand Rapids, Michigan to attain my medical degree and become a practicing physician.

What advice would you give to others looking for student trainee internships with the Corps of Engineers?

Be ready to learn. There is such an opportunity to grow while completing a student internship. I have learned so much from everyone who works here, and I am truly better for it. Always say yes to a new task or adventure because you have no idea what you might take away from it.

What would you tell someone who knows nothing about the Corps of Engineers student trainee internship program?

I would tell them that it’s an incredible opportunity to explore career fields and gain essential workplace experience.

To find out more information or how to apply for a student trainee internship, please visit the Detroit District Careers page at: https://www.lre.usace.army.mil/Careers/.