2018 Grant Award: Stella Murray

If I had to choose one word to describe my learning experience it would be success. From the very beginning I knew that my summer internship was already successful – international work experience is not easy to come by! I knew that the only failure would be not taking the opportunity to travel to London, spend eight weeks as an intern and eight weekends as a tourist. It was clear that there would be a lot of learning to be done. First, I had to learn how the Underground worked and how to navigate my way to and from my Airbnb during chaotic weekday mornings and peaceful Sunday evenings. Second, I had to learn the computer programs of acoustic engineers. As an architecture student I had a basic knowledge of acoustics. However, the means by which engineers determine acoustic properties was a lesson I was to learn in a couple of months. Third, I learned the city by heart via the Underground and the landmarks. I would learn how to differentiate one district from another simply by the cuisine on the streets and the buildings casting shadows overhead.

I believe that success is most importantly defined by you. The challenges that I faced traveling via Tube every morning encouraged me to wake up early and walk the streets of London prior to tourists flooding them with their selfie sticks. I postponed my commute in the afternoon to avoid the cramped carriages and to seek adventure in the nearby districts of Marylebone, Soho and Piccadilly Circus. Once I arrived in the office, the true learning experience began. In a team of nine, I learned how to use computer programs such as CadnaA and CATT to assess acoustic properties; how to test acoustic properties on site; and how to mark up drawings in order to indicate the acoustic properties of walls and floors. Through a variety of exercises, I furthered my knowledge in acoustics to an extent that I did not imagine possible. I worked on a half-dozen projects in eight weeks; visited at least three in person; and attended “Learning and Development” lectures.

If I was not in the office learning tips and shortcuts from my colleagues, then I was running or socializing with them. Once the work week ended, I spent the weekends exploring the city. One Saturday I would visit the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern; another Sunday I would spend the entire day at a music festival. Talking with colleagues on a Monday morning, they kept on reminding me of how much I had done in such a short period of time. In fact, I had seen more of the city in two months than they had in two years! Once I was aware of this fact, I would even take colleagues-turned-friends with me to experience all that the city has to offer. The most important offer that I received in London was from BuroHappold Engineering. Had the firm not offered me a contract as an Acoustic Intern, I would not have become an astute Underground traveler; an efficient and effective acoustic engineer in-training; or a tour guide for Londoners in London – no joke! But I have become all three… Success!

P.S. As a side note, the second word to describe my learning experience is gratitude for the Presidential Leadership Academy travel grant. Without it, I would have hesitated seizing the moment and booking plane tickets to cross the pond. With it, I had no reason to be concerned about finances because I knew that the patrons of the PLA supported me. The support that I received was priceless – and the learning experience that would come as a result was even more so!