An Intern's Journey

Posted: 8/28/2017

Oluwatosin Akinsanya at Chicago Scholars 2017

As part of our community outreach efforts, Civiltech actively promotes and participates in high school mentoring programs. Also, within the company, we believe in the benefits of a robust internship program. When these two efforts collide, the result is exciting and rewarding. This summer, we were fortunate to include in our team of interns, Oluwatosin (Tosin) Akinsanya, a participant in the Chicago Scholars program whom we met at the 2016 First Look Company Exploration & Career Fair.

Chicago Scholars is an organization that selects, trains, and mentors academically ambitious students from under-resourced communities to complete college and become the next generation of leaders. The program’s objectives are to help these first generation college students stay focused on their college goals, navigate the complex and unfamiliar application process, transition to campus life, persist through college to graduation, and transition into careers or post-graduate programs. An ultimate goal of the organization is to create leaders that will return to Chicago and enrich the community.Civiltech’s Mike Folkening first met Tosin when he approached our booth at the career fair. Tosin had attended the event hoping to gain tips and advice on how to function in the workplace and to learn about a career in engineering. “I wasn’t even passing out resumes,” he stated, explaining that a job search was not his intent. When Tosin approached the Civiltech table, Mike took notice of his snappy wardrobe and said, “you don’t look like a typical engineering student,” and the two hit it off immediately. During their conversation, Mike explained how the office, the teams, and the projects were managed, and how the Civiltech leadership operated. Mike then introduced Tosin to other staff for a round table discussion. Tosin found the conversations meaningful and comfortable and the team welcoming. Following the event, Civiltech offered Tosin an internship for the following summer. Tosin said that he was humbled by the invitation and that it reinforced the benefits of the Chicago Scholars program.

Tosin’s journey began years earlier and 6,000 miles away in his family home in Nigeria. His parents dreamed of providing their children the opportunity to attend prestigious universities and have successful careers. Pursuit of that dream, together with an economic crisis in Nigeria and dangerous Boko Haram activity, prompted the decision to move their four children to the United States. At age 13, Tosin landed in Baltimore with his mother, older brother, and two little sisters. His father remained in Nigeria to maintain his business. After living transiently in Baltimore for a brief time, Tosin’s mother heard about job opportunities in Chicago and they boarded an Amtrak train to an uncertain future.

The family’s new life in Chicago was initially difficult. Tosin’s mother found work as a caregiver, which often took her away from her children for weeks at a time. Tosin and his brother had to care for their younger sisters while attending school themselves. Also, Tosin missed his father. He and his siblings felt their parents had sacrificed tremendously to provide them a safe and stable life, as well as educational opportunities that they might not have had in Nigeria, so they were determined to succeed.

While attending Chicago’s Sullivan High School in Rogers Park, Tosin was selected to participate in Chicago Scholars his junior year and he enthusiastically took advantage of every program they offered. When his family had arrived in the United States, they spoke Yoruba, one of several languages primarily used in Nigeria. Tosin was determined to improve his English speaking skills and credits Chicago Scholars, as well as his high school, with helping him. They provided access to books and encouraged him to enter events that required him to give presentations and speeches. He read aloud in class whenever possible and studied American movies, repeating the dialogue. Tosin had watched as his mom’s difficulty with language was a career obstacle despite having a good education. But more importantly, he was determined that he would not be prevented, due to an accent, from clearly expressing his ideas.

Tosin graduated from Sullivan in 2015. In addition to the workshops, leadership activities, college preparation, and mentoring programs, Chicago Scholars helped Tosin navigate the complexities of applying to colleges while his family was processing their immigration documentation. With Chicago Scholars help, Tosin received a Star Scholarship to Wilbur Wright College where he completed two
years of study.

This year, Tosin was accepted into the Electrical Engineering program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and is beginning classes this fall. He chose to pursue Electrical Engineering based on his interest in signal processing. His internship at Civiltech gave him the opportunity to learn about traffic signal design work from some of our engineering staff.

During his internship at Civiltech, Tosin says that he enjoyed learning how much teamwork is involved in a project, and that the company felt more like a family than a workplace. He also enjoyed visiting project sites and seeing firsthand how our environment can be changed for the better through good design. Learning about codes and standards and how they impact design was interesting to Tosin, and he learned new computer skills including MicroStation and various other engineering software programs.

Of special interest, Tosin enjoyed learning about Civiltech’s participation in the City of Chicago’s Aldermanic Menu Program or C*NECT. While previously interning for 49th Ward Alderman, Joe Moore, Tosin had helped inspect deficiencies in neighborhoods and had participated in meetings with community members and leaders to determine what needs should be addressed through the menu program. Having the opportunity to see the program from the engineering side, according to Tosin, “made it all connect.”

Thanks to Chicago Scholars, Tosin received mentoring and leadership as well as on-going support from consistent and caring staff. The program helped him stay focused, identify goals, get into college, and transition to UIUC. He credits Chicago Scholars for helping him learn how to socialize comfortably and with confidence, and ultimately, to realize his potential. Tosin is hoping to give back to Chicago Scholars by applying what he’s learned and mentoring future participants.

With Civiltech, Tosin said that he met his goal of finding a place “to belong, become, and grow.” In return, Civiltech enjoyed the energy and fresh perspective provided by Tosin and our other outstanding interns. We look forward to watching Tosin and our other interns continue to thrive as well as to meeting future internship candidates through our on-going volunteer and mentoring work with Chicago Scholars.

Oh . . . and those other siblings? Tosin’s brother is entering his senior year this fall at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of his little sisters was the Valedictorian at Sullivan High School this spring.