Summer Internship at the Wayne State University – Detroit, USA

Nilanjana narrates her thrilling, adventurous and friendly internship experience in the city which is the birthplace of American Automation – Detroit.

About Author: – Nilanjana is a pre-final year student at IIT Kharagpur where she is pursuing her Integrated Masters in Civil Engineering. She did her internship at Wayne State University, United States of America.

I interned this summer at Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan in the Transportation Research Group headed by Prof. Tapan Datta who is one of the premier experts on Urban Traffic Safety and Management in the US today. As a professor heading a team of about 30 people on various projects, he emphasized to us, from the very start, that he expected dedication and full participation from the interns in the projects being pursued by the group. Selections were through a sit-down interview conducted by Prof. Datta himself in December at various centres all around India, viz. Bombay, Delhi, Kolkata etc. When you decide to take up a work assignment in a not-so- conventional part of the world, you will always raise eyebrows. It was no different for me. Having being warned about the scary criminal statistics that Detroit has recorded in the past, I set forth, slightly apprehensive but excited all the same.

If I were to pick out one thing that made this internship worthwhile, it was working with a group of highly spirited and goal-oriented individuals, who took every aspect of work very seriously. I trained in field research on traffic volumes and signals, statistical data analysis, traffic simulation modelling and commercial vehicle driver behaviour. As a civil engineer, the skills I have learnt are invaluable to me. Having said that, internships in foreign countries do guarantee a certain amount of travel, and travel I did! My first stop in the US was New Jersey where I have family. I visited Princeton University which had always been on top of the to-do list. In a fairly short amount of time, I managed to make enough friends to road-trip to the Pocono Mountains where we trekked around water falls for a couple of days amidst beautiful natural views. Later in the summer, I took bus-trips to Washington and Chicago. The highways in the US are truly a delight to be on and of specific interest to me, as I was on a transportation engineering internship. The trip to New York on 4th July was the highlight of the summer, made better by a Norah Jones concert at Central Park. Meanwhile, Detroit did not disappoint either. Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd) performed at the Joe Louis Arena which is Detroit’s hockey stadium. Since Canada is right across the Detroit River, hockey is taken pretty seriously in Detroit. The Ford Rouge Museum was a treat to visit, their most brilliant attraction being a line of presidential cars from Teddy Roosevelt to Franklin D. Roosevelt to JFK. Michigan is known as the Great Lake State and one of USA’s prettiest places. I had the opportunity to see Lakes St-Clair and Michigan, both affording breath-taking views of the waters.

However, what I will remember most fondly from the summer of ’12 are the friends I made – the African-American store-owner who talked to me about world peace for two hours after we met while I was on field duty, the friendly bus-drivers who helped me find my way around Michigan (which has very little public transportation), my friends in the DeRoy Apartments, where I stayed, who spent many a weeknight gossiping about life in America-and the incredible resilient spirit that Detroit has, which is embodied in a quote that I saw on a boarded up store-window – “Nothing Stops Detroit”. I have seen the birthplace of American automation and one of the centres of American music. I must be lucky :-)

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