pittsburgh engineering internship program

The Essential Role of Internships in Engineering Firms from an Insider's Perspective

pittsburgh engineering internship program

In the fast-paced world of engineering, real-world experience is the catalyst that transforms vast academic domains into practical know-how. For both students and the companies that will one day employ them, an engineering internship bridges the gap between theory and application, playing a pivotal role in career development and industry innovation. In fact, interns have a 70% chance of full-time employment with their host company, emphasizing the significance of successful internships. Our very own intern-turned-engineer, Tyler Clayton is a shining example of this crucial learning experience that resonates beyond merely filling a summer schedule or easing the transition from academia to corporate life. 

A Deep Dive into the RTP Engineering Internship Experience with Tyler Clayton

Engineering internship programs serve as a proving ground for budding engineers, with over 66,249 engineering interns currently employed in the United States. We sat down with Tyler to glean insights from his firsthand experience going from a student intern to a full-time engineer at RTP. We learned that his tenure at RTP not only shaped his future career trajectory but also offered him a holistic view of the engineering industry from the inside out.

Can you describe a typical day at RTP for an intern? I’m interested in hearing about the tasks you handled and how you interacted with the team.

I started my internship with R.T. Patterson on May 16, 2022, in the summer before the last semester of my Mechanical Engineering degree, planning to graduate that December. Before my first day of work, I was unsure what this internship would be like. You always hear of interns not being given any substantial work and mostly acting as an assistant, grabbing coffees, doing homework, studying, taking notes for meetings, etc.

I am very thankful to say that my internship at R.T. Patterson was nothing like that. I was given plenty of real work and responsibility. Starting my very first day in my office, while still getting set up with my computer and email, I was given some information on a project, asked to review it after getting settled, and meet with the manager to discuss my first assignment. This may seem intimidating, but I was happy to hear this. From this moment, I knew this engineering internship would be incredibly beneficial and educational.

Can you tell us a little bit about the projects you were assigned as an intern?

This first assignment was a good example of the tasks I would handle throughout my internship. My first assignment was to design a shock absorber to stop the rotation of the ladle fork arm in a steel mill. To complete this project, I had to perform calculations by hand and in Excel, create 3D models in Inventor and perform Finite Element Analysis on those models, and develop the 2D AutoCAD drawings for construction.

My next project would introduce me to the other daily tasks I would perform as a full-time engineer. My second project would have me assist with coordinating the Piping Department tasks for a project involving a lot of new pipe routing at a plastics plant. For this project, I created drawing transmittals to the client, wrote discipline Scope of Work documents and Specifications, and visited the client site several times to perform field investigations of existing conditions to assist in our design.

For these first two major assignments, I interacted mostly with the Piping/Mechanical Department manager and assistant manager. Over time, when I approached the managers with questions, they would direct me to others in the department who had additional knowledge or experience on the topic. This allowed me to get introduced to the team in a natural way and learn from the best based on the question.

Bridge to the Profession

Comprehensive training and mentorship during internships assist in the transition from student to professional. Placing young engineers in the midst of live projects educates them in the nuances of the industry, from conducting technical investigations to participating in the decision-making process of engineering solutions.

During internships, students have the chance to meet and collaborate with professionals from various backgrounds. These connections often lead to valuable references and future employment through the relationships established during the program. As an intern, Tyler was able to take advantage of events Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania Banquet which is an annual event that includes most of the engineering firms, engineers from local industry, city of Pittsburgh engineers, Allegheny County engineers, and Penndot engineers.

The experience gleaned from internships brightens students’ resumes and profiles, setting them apart in a competitive job market. Recruiters often seek applicants with relevant work experience, and internships offer exactly that—a window into the working life of an engineer.

What are some of the key skills you developed during your internship at RTP, and how did they set you up to become a full-time engineer at RTP?

I feel like I learned more in my internship about being an engineer than I did in my education. My time pursuing my degree taught me the foundation I would need to perform my job, but my internship taught me to become an engineer. The team at R.T. Patterson understood that I did not have the same knowledge as the tenured full-time engineers, but instead of treating me as a liability, I was encouraged to ask questions and learn in my time while performing meaningful tasks and given real responsibility. I was treated as an entry level engineer from day one, not a student or typical intern.

My internship taught me key skills and lessons that I would not have learned without it. I learned to be confident in my work; just because I didn’t have experience did not mean that I did not know what I was doing. I learned that performing engineering tasks is very different than the lessons learned in your degree. I learned how to communicate professionally with clients.

The list of skills and lessons I learned is probably a mile long. I am very pleased with my internship experience at R.T. Patterson. In my opinion, it was the most valuable part of my engineering education. I was so happy to receive and offer to work as a full-time engineer at the end of my internship and am so proud to work here.

A Two-Way Street: The Company's Perspective

Engineering firms are strategic in their approach to internships, leveraging these opportunities to cultivate talent, innovate, and meet organizational needs. Investing in internship programs is a long-term commitment with tangible benefits for the companies that provide them.

  1. The Power of Perspective: Interns bring a fresh pair of eyes to the table, unencumbered by the "but we've always done it this way" mindset. The out-of-the-box thinking of interns often spawns innovative solutions to lingering problems and offers a new lens through which to view projects.
  2. Cost-Effective Talent Acquisition: Recruiting interns presents a cost-effective channel for firms to evaluate potential employees over an extended period. This 'extended interview' process allows companies to experience the applicants' work ethic and suitability for their organizational culture.
  3. Sourcing Future Leaders: Through competitive internships, firms gain access to the brightest minds in engineering. Investing time and resources into these budding professionals can result in high-quality, loyal future employees who are already familiar with the company's operations.
  4. Fulfilling Corporate Social Responsibility: By offering meaningful internships, engineering firms contribute to the development of their community's skills base and fulfill a sense of corporate responsibility toward nurturing the next generation of engineers.

According to RTP’s General Manager of Engineering, Larry Friedline: “Internships help the intern learn what we do at RTP and helps us learn about the intern and how they may best fit within our team.”

The Proactive Path Forward

As engineering continues to evolve and expand, internships will remain a linchpin of industry progression. Engineering firms and students must be proactive in initiating and participating in internship programs to secure their place at the forefront of the field.

  • For Students: Seek out internships that align with your interests and career goals. Investigate a company's internship program as you would their project opportunities and apply with enthusiasm and purpose.
  • For Engineering Firms: Invest in your future by investing in internships. Develop robust programs that offer genuine learning opportunities and recognize the potential for new ideas and talent that these aspiring engineers bring to the table.


From developing the skills of future engineers to steering the innovation of today's firms, R.T Patterson understands that these programs are the foundation upon which the industry grows. Companies that take an active role in shaping the intern experience are not only fulfilling a responsibility to the next generation but are also ensuring their own vitality and competitive edge in an increasingly dynamic engineering landscape. To learn more about our engineering internship program, contact Larry Friedline.


Empowering Tomorrow: Innovations and Challenges in Substation Design

air insulated and gas insulated substation design blog post

The beating heart of any reliable, robust electrical grid system lies in its substation design. A substation might not be the most visible aspect of a power distribution network, but it's undeniably one of the most critical. Its efficiency, safety features, and resilience determine the overall stability and reliability of the electrical supply to infrastructure, industries, and homes alike. Any failure in this crucial component can lead to widespread power outages, significant economic losses, and potentially hazardous situations. Thus, the importance of investing in high-quality substation design and maintenance cannot be overstated—it's a foundational pillar for a secure, dependable energy future. 

In the United States and around the globe, there is a need for electrical grid upgrades to meet the needs of a growing population and severe weather events. High-voltage substations, which serve as crucial points in the intricate power transmission setup, are vital in meeting increasing demands securely and dependably. There are a variety of types of switchgear designed for high-voltage substations that offer the flexibility to provide customized solutions, including:

  • Air-Insulated Substation (AIS): cost-effective, suitable for outdoor locations, low maintenance 
  • Gas-Insulated Substation (GIS): compact, reliable, safer, minimal environmental impact, suitable for densely populated urban areas
  • Hybrid Substation: flexible, offers a balance between cost effectiveness and space optimization

At the time of this article, the gas-insulated substation market is projected to grow significantly over the next two years, and potentially by more than 10% by 2030. This is due primarily to the growing need for environmentally friendly solutions across a variety of sectors, as well as the smaller footprint. Our team at RTP is currently designing modifications to an EHV GIS substation located in the downtown area of a major city that provides power to a large number of residents, businesses, and institutions. While this 500,000 volt substation is a powerful and critical source of energy, the average passerby will not even realize that they are walking past a substation.

The Rise of Gas Insulated Switchgear Stations 

As our infrastructure ages and our population increases, the need for modernizing our grid could not be greater. Challenges such as increased demand, the need for renewable energy integration, and the incessant pull for efficiency have made Gas Insulated switchgear substations the preferred choice to define the future landscape of electricity distribution. 

The key to GIS lies in its design, representing a quantum leap in substation technology. With the ability to compress massive power distribution infrastructure into a fraction of the space needed by conventional air insulated substations (AIS), GIS is a game-changer in efficiency and environmental impact.

The GIS approach offers safety and environmental advantages that can't be overlooked. Since the GIS system is totally encapsulated and insulated from the external environment, it is impervious to particle or mist pollution, making it a preferred choice for densely populated urban areas and other locations where land is a premium. Its compact design and ability to withstand high voltages make it a preferred choice for urban areas, where space is limited.

The cost of installation might be higher initially, due to the sophisticated design and materials involved, but the long-term economic benefits of GIS, including reduced land usage and operational costs, often outweigh the upfront expense. The reduced environmental footprint is a welcome bonus in today's world, where sustainable practices are increasingly becoming a priority.

Mitigating Arc Flash Hazards in Substations

In today’s rapidly advancing technological landscape, ensuring the safety and efficiency of industrial plants can’t be overstated. One of the critical challenges in substation design is effectively mitigating the dangers posed by arc flashes – a sudden and potent discharge of electrical energy that occurs when a significant fault condition or short circuit flows through the air from one conductor to another, or to ground. These incidents are not only hazardous to the electrical equipment within substations but also pose a deadly risk to personnel working within or near substation environments.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are over 30,000 arc flash incidents in the United States every year, leading to severe injuries and even fatalities. The intense heat from an arc flash can reach temperatures as high as 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit, over three times the surface temperature of the sun, causing catastrophic burns and igniting flammable clothing instantly. Beyond the immediate physical danger, arc flashes can also result in costly downtime for facilities, loss of equipment, and legal liabilities for companies.

Well-designed substations are crucial in minimizing the risk of arc flashes, along with in depth arc flash studies and strictly adhering to OSHA standards. According to Substation Safety’s 6-point plan for arc flash OSHA compliance, an in-depth safety program must be provided to employees, along with an accurate analysis of the degree of arc flash hazard presented on the substation, and training and equipment suitable for the hazard present.

By incorporating advanced protective technologies, spatial layouts that reduce the likelihood of fault conditions, and isolation features that help contain incidents should they occur, a thoughtfully engineered substation can significantly decrease the chances of such dangerous events. In essence, through meticulous design and adherence to the highest safety standards, substations play an indispensable role in safeguarding lives and maintaining continuous, reliable power distribution in industrial plants.

The Market Matters: Substation Design Across Industries

It is vital to understand that successful substation design is not a one-size-fits-all affair. Industries such as the steel, chemical, oil & gas, and general manufacturing sectors each have their specific needs and regulations. A substation designed for a steel plant might differ vastly from one serving an oil refinery, both in terms of the equipment used and the safety standards imposed.

At RTP, we take a thorough substation design approach to cater to various needs, encompassing GIS, AIS, and hybrid configurations. Our process covers defining equipment specs, crafting clear diagrams, prioritizing safety measures, and optimizing functionality. We ensure power distribution and integrate security features like the Kirk Key System. Our designs prioritize stability and accuracy, providing reliable solutions for our clients’ needs. 

Our vast portfolio of over 50 completed substation projects includes:

  • 69 KV Switchyard Substation for the Bauxite Mine Project in Toll Gate, Jamaica, owned by ALCOA Minerals of Jamaica. The scope involved protective device setting and relay coordination studies for the utility tie-line, as well as a ground grid analysis using ETAP Powerstation software.
  • 100 KV Transformer/Thyristor Rectifier Substation for the Zinc Facility Project in Mooresboro, North Carolina, owned by Horsehead Corporation. RTP conducted ground grid analysis to meet ABB requirements and ensure the design met standards.
  • 100 KV Harmonic Filter Substation for the same Zinc Facility Project, involving protective device setting and relay coordination studies for various equipment, along with ground grid analysis.
  • SVC PLUS Substation for the Steel Melt Shop Project in Calvert, Alabama, owned by Thyssen Krupp Corporation.
  • 161 KV Aluminum Potline Rectifier Substation for the Aluminum Facility Project in New Madrid, Missouri, owned by Noranda Aluminum, Inc. This included installation engineering for various equipment such as thyristor bridges, rectifier transformers, harmonic filters, and transformers.

RTP has also untaken projects for clients, including MEPPI, Dominion Power, Hitachi Energy, ConEd. Caribbean Utility Company, First Energy, Ohio Star Forge, Jamalco, ALCOA, Noranda, and USS, encompassing various voltage levels and configurations across different locations.We pride ourselves on the ability to deliver substation designs that not only meet industry-specific requirements but also surpass client expectations in terms of reliability and long-term performance. Whether it's an industrial facility or a city's backbone power grid, our solutions are tailored to safeguard against downtime and deliver power uninterrupted.