September 06, 2018, BY Matt Hughes

The first time Tyler Keiser '20 made his way to the "dance floor" it was a white-knuckle ride. These days, it barely shakes him — which is pretty impressive, given that the floor in question hovers nearly 200 feet off the ground.

The dance floor is what Trumbull Construction calls the wood-and-steel platform where concrete-pouring crews work at the new Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project river bridge, about 4 miles south of Bucknell. The highway bridge, which will traverse a 4,545-foot span over the Susquehanna River at a maximum ground clearance of 180 feet, has been under construction since 2015, and during the past two summers Keiser has been there to observe and lend a hand as a project engineer intern. In that time, he's made numerous trips up to the dance floor, riding in a 6-by-3-foot metal cage with a mesh grate floor that you can see right through.

Tyler Keiser ’20 is building a bridge between his education and his future career with his construction-industry internship.

"Being able to look down isn't really fun," said Keiser, who's heading into the third year of his five-year civil engineering and management program. "But this year I'm more comfortable with it, because I know what to expect."

Real-World Responsibilities
Keiser isn't just there to watch; he has important work to do to ensure that Trumbull's concrete-pouring operations run according to plan and in compliance with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation standards. On any given day, his supervisor, project engineer Jeff Slezak, might ask him to double-check designs and work orders, estimate labor hours for subcontractors, or check the temperature of liquid concrete before it's poured.

The last job is one that's both critical and complicated, since concrete that gets too warm or cold before hardening isn't as resilient when it cures, and the project's largest pours involve more than 100 truckloads of it. Any of the 60,000 cubic yards of concrete in the bridge that don't meet the state's specifications would be rejected by state inspectors and have to be replaced.

At nearly 200 feet tall, the bridge will be the highest river crossing in the region.

"I was very surprised with the amount of responsibility that I was given, especially last year as a rising sophomore," Keiser said. "I've had to learn how to do things in the most effective and efficient way possible."

The job has demanded that Keiser draw on all of the skills he's learned in his first two years of Bucknell classes, but even after his first year, he said he felt well prepared for the challenge.

Prepared for the Job
His Engineering 101 course with civil engineering professor Kelly Salyards was a drawing and design primer that helped him understand and interpret construction blueprints. Engineering 100, an interdisciplinary course shared by all engineering majors, taught him to work with and trust colleagues with diverse skills and backgrounds. And his Solid Mechanics course with Professor Jim Orbison "was basically a bridge design class," Keiser said.

Classes in physics, calculus and management broadened and deepened his knowledge, but as prepared as he became, Keiser had hardly seen everything. He recalled the first time Slezak asked him to double-check a set of rebar drawings, a polka-dot style of illustration he wasn't familiar with. Keiser scanned around blindly for 20 minutes or so before realizing he needed to ask for help, and learning the sort of lesson that can only be taught through experience.

"I learned how to get past the initial awkwardness of bringing up what you don't know, and move forward," he said.

Keiser checks his notes in front of the "dance floor" where crews pour concrete to create bridge piers.

Keiser recognized the value an internship could provide him largely thanks to his mother, who directs Bucknell's Career Development Center. But it was Bucknell that helped him lock down his position. He first connected with Trumbull at an on-campus Internship & Job Fair, and said the knowledge he gained in his early classes helped convince the company he was trustworthy, even with only one year of college under his belt.

He's now trying to pay it forward by sharing his experience with other Bucknell engineering students. As vice president of the University's chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, he used his connections to organize a tour of the job site for the club.

"When I'm driving home for the day, I'm very happy to be a student at Bucknell," said Keiser, who is from Elysburg, Pa. "I feel like I can use skills from Bucknell at my internship, and skills from my internship at Bucknell. And I can build my skills even more than I could doing one without the other."