Maryville College student flourishes in LDA Engineering Internship

January 28, 2015

As a Maryville College economics major interested in learning how business decisions are made, Riley McMillan was excited to begin her internship in the Knoxville headquarters of LDA Engineering.

“My parents had a homebuilding business and growing up, our bonus room was always filled with structural drawings. When I came in here I felt kind of nostalgic and realized I missed that because it’s really fascinating,” she said, gesturing at the busy engineering office she’s been working in since October.

McMillan, a 2013 graduate of Knoxville Catholic High School, is the daughter of James and Carol Ann McMillan of Madisonville.

Wade Knapper, chief business officer for LDA Engineering and Maryville College graduate,  discussed a project with Riley McMillan in the offices of LDA Engineering.

Wade Knapper, chief business officer for LDA Engineering and Maryville College graduate, discussed a project with Riley McMillan in the offices of LDA Engineering.

Her internship started when she approached Christy McDonald, director of career resources at Maryville College, and expressed interest in gaining experience in business.

“She was proactive and professional, and I knew she would be a strong candidate for the position,” McDonald said, adding that she had recently visited LDA Engineering to discuss placing an intern with the company.

As part of a new comprehensive career preparation program, “Maryville College Works,” students will complete an internship or other significant practical experience by the time they graduate.

“We feel that LDA Engineering set a strong model for Maryville College Works,” said McDonald. “They have a strong employee culture, and we felt that an intern could benefit from working for such a solid organization. We appreciate organizations like LDA Engineering for their commitment to hire our students to gain strong practical experience.”

McDonald went on to praise the efforts of LDA Engineering’s Jason Brooks ’97, president and CEO, and Wade Knapper ’05, chief business manager. Both are alumni of the College and, upon learning about Maryville College Works, proactively reached out to offer the internship which McMillan is now doing.

“We hope that more organizations, such as LDA Engineering, will approach us so we can provide valuable work experiences for our students,” McDonald said.

McMillan says she was originally seeking a summer internship, but was excited to start earlier and stay at LDA Engineering for a longer period of time.

She’s busy helping the company transition from paper field reports to a tablet-based app which allows field and construction inspection staff to enter their notes, expense reports and working hours directly into a database which can then be accessed in real-time. It also categorizes digital pictures based on project, allowing for weekly reports (that once took hours) to be generated in minutes.

“I help streamline documents, transferring them from a hard copy archive to a cloud database. That’s my baseline work,” she said. “I’m also writing and editing instruction manuals for the tablets and apps.”

According to Knapper, who oversees McMillan’s work, LDA Engineering was glad to receive support in introducing this crucial new technology into its workflow.

“I wanted to produce these training manuals, but I wouldn’t have had the time to do it myself,” he said. “We needed some help and, in the long-run, it’s really going to make us better.”

Knapper added that McMillan is getting “exposure to some of the high-level business decisions we make.”

“She was invited to the board meeting in November – in fact, she helped plan it. Later we spent about an hour and a half talking about the data that was presented and what that means for the decisions being made,” he said.

Dr. Sharon May, associate professor of economics at Maryville College and McMillan’s advisor, said her student’s success in the internship is not surprising.

“The experience of doing the internship will let Riley experience working in this field and inform her choice of which career opportunities to pursue in the future,” May said. “She is very responsible and proactive.  She has determined to get the most out of her MC experience and is taking active steps to do that.”

With the help of Maryville College Works, McMillan has secured for herself a role as an integral member of a team that is managing a complex project for a prosperous and growing company.

Knapper pointed out that, at any given time, LDA Engineering has nine inspectors at many different sites. Each of those sites has multiple construction contractors working at it.

“It’s complicated because all of the things they’re doing need to be documented,” he said. “Riley’s done a great job with very little supervision. I usually don’t hear back from her unless there are major questions. Otherwise, she comes back to me with a draft. To me that’s what you really look for.”