By Cassie McClure
Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 2/21/21
Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) collaborates with New Mexico State University (NMSU) to give their graduate students access to the full scope of what lies beyond the textbooks and laboratories.
For Himali Delanka-Pedige, LCU shows her the full process of civil engineering projects in the field, from planning to design to construction and completion. For her six-month internship, she is being guided by LCU Senior Engineer Waleed Abu-Issa, P.E. Abu-Issa explained that the challenge is to condense projects into the time frame of her internship.
"The shortest project that we have is usually one year, from beginning to end. Some projects take two to three years," he said. "What I try to do is to give them exposure to a little bit of everything. We're trying to give them the opportunity to learn real-life experiences, even if they go into academics - instead of industry - and teach other students, this experience will help convey the message for their students on how engineering works with various utility projects."
In LCU's Utilities Environmental and Utilities Support and Project Management lines of business, engineers help plan projects. Projects can range from helping design a new gas line for a neighborhood to envisioning creating a new water quality laboratory.
As part of a National Science Foundation grant, Delanka-Pedige needed to find a non-academic research internship in her community. "We have to find a host that can allow us to work in the industry. LCU has provided me that opportunity," she said.
Since starting in January with LCU, Delanka-Pedige has been involved in several different projects. "Currently, I am working on several feasibility studies, such as the West Mesa Industrial Park Wastewater Treatment Facility Renovation and Expansion Project. Plus, I'm also working on a design review for the Mesa Grande Drive Waterline Project at the same time."
"Up until now, I haven't been exposed to industry. I was working on my Ph.D. research and I was confined to a laboratory," she said. "In research, we have problems and we figure out how to tackle them theoretically. But, aspects of the problem change in the real world, such as are solutions even scalable? In reality, I've learned that we need a lot of management and a lot of communication."
Abu-Issa understands how it won't be just pouring over blueprints that will allow interns to gain experience, but exactly what Delanka-Pedige gains from the interactions with staff in different areas and seeing the fruition of projects that provide for the quality of life within the city.
"LCU works diligently with the community and looks forward to continuing coordinating with NMSU to help them enhance their educational mission by enabling their students to help serve the city," Abu-Issa said. "It's beneficial not just for the students, but also for residents who gain from their work learning the industry firsthand."
LCU can be reached at 575-528-3500 from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. LCU provides services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.
PHOTO 1: From left to right: LCU Intern Isuru Abeysiriwardana, LCU Senior Engineer Waleed Abu-Issa, and Intern Himali Delanka-Pedige go over blueprints for the design phase of an ongoing LCU project. Delanka-Pedige is adding to her resume by seeing different real-world utility projects happening in Las Cruces.