Civil & Environmental Engineering Co-Op Story: National Center for Asphalt Technology


Jackson Curtis

Civil Engineering

What company or organization did you co-op with and where are they located?

I completed my Co-Op rotation at the National Center for Asphalt Technology Test Track located in Opelika, Alabama.

How did you identify and apply for your co-op? Are there any specific resources you used to find the opportunity (i.e. Handshake, career fairs, other recruitment events)?

During the Introduction to Engineering course my freshman year, lots of information was presented regarding the Co-Op program. We were informed that there would be an opportunity in the spring to interview with employers interested in Co-Ops. Handshake was the platform I used to see which employers would be present at the “Interview Days”. Through Handshake, I applied and scheduled an interview with several employers. The application process was as simple as submitting my resume.

The evening prior to the “Interview Days”, there was a meet and greet in the Brown-Kopel Grand Hall where I had the opportunity to meet and speak with the employers in a relaxed setting. I believe the meet and greet helped me be more comfortable around employers the following day during interviews.

What was the application process like?

After I scheduled interviews through Handshake and met with employers at the meet and greet, the time came to interview. The interviews took place in the Auburn Hotel, where I dressed in business professional and waited in a room with other students for my scheduled interview time. I had three consecutive interviews, and all the employers were very friendly. They told me the details of Co-Op work and asked me about myself. I left the interviews feeling very pleased with the conversations.

Within the next week, I received emails containing offers from two of the entities I interviewed with. I accepted the position at the National Center of Asphalt Technology Test Track and worked with my advisor to schedule my work rotation. The process was not difficult at all.

Tell us about your co-op experience. What types of tasks and projects did you engage in? Was there a particular project or part of the experience you learned the most from?

The NCAT Test Track is a unique place; essentially, it is a full-scale outdoor laboratory for accelerated study of asphalt pavements. The facility consists of a 1.7 mile two lane oval track which is divided up into 200-foot sections. Each section is paved individually with different experimental goals. State Departments of Transportation and private entities sponsor sections on the track. Triple trailer trucks weighing 160,000 pounds drive on the track for 16 hours per day, allowing for accelerated aging of the sections. Because of this accelerated testing, every three years sections are able to be milled up and repaved with new goals of study.

During my time at the track, I was exposed to many things. I worked directly with engineers to monitor, test, and record changes in the asphalt pavements. I utilized AutoCAD to record cracking in the test sections. I was able to meet sponsors and network with many people in asphalt industry. I was present during the 2021 milling and reconstruction phase where I performed quality control testing of asphalt mixes as well as surveyed the paving surfaces. Reconstruction lasted about three months, and it was not unusual to work 60 hours per week. After construction ended, things slowed down, and I was able to have a normal work schedule the remainder of my rotations. Additionally, I worked with the mechanic to perform maintenance on the trucks such as changing tires and bearings.

In what ways did your co-op experience help you prepare for your next destination after Auburn?

My time spent as a Co-Op at NCAT helped improve my engineering skillset by placing me in a variety of situations. I was able to learn directly from engineers in management as well as research positions. Additionally, NCAT allowed me to network and develop connections with people in the transportation industry.

In what ways did your coursework or other experiences at Auburn prepare you for your co-op work experience? Are there specific topics or skills you learned from classes that you put into practice on the job?

Since I began the Co-Op process as a Freshman, I had not yet taken any engineering courses at Auburn. Although, I did learn many things on the job that are currently helping me while I take senior level classes.

Do you have any advice for other students seeking a co-op experience?

My advice is to not hesitate. Interview with as many companies as you can as soon as you can. The process is easy and extremely rewarding. Being a Co-Op is an excellent way to gain valuable work experience, network, and make good money while doing so.