By Mason Nichols
No matter what their makeup, families play an integral role in our lives. In times of joy, we turn to family to relay good news. In times of despair, we look to them for support. And, perhaps most importantly, as we progress down the path from youth to adulthood, we rely heavily on our families to guide us in the right direction and help shape who we will ultimately become.
For Michael Hess of Wisconsin Dells, Wis., family played a crucial role in his decision to pursue a civil engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Hess, an NPCA Foundation scholarship recipient, said his father helped him develop a strong work ethic from a very young age.
“Ever since I was 2 years old, I’ve been carrying around a hammer and helping my dad out,” Hess said. “My dad worked as a carpenter and superintendent and also spent time working as a project manager, which is the type of position I hope to attain.”
Hess’ connection to another family – the Wiesers – has also contributed to his drive for a career in the construction industry. In 2012, Hess took a summer internship at Wieser Concrete Products Inc. in Portage, Wis., a position he learned about thanks to his longtime friendship with a member of the Wieser family. Though physically taxing, Hess describes his time with the company as crucial to gaining an enhanced understanding of the construction and precast concrete industries.
“I was a concrete form worker, so I was getting down and dirty,” Hess said. “It’s tough labor, but I was glad I was able to gain that experience so that I know what that section of the industry looks like.”
In addition to learning what it takes to properly manufacture culverts, septic tanks and a variety of other precast concrete products, Hess benefitted in another way from his experience: Mark Wieser, executive vice president of Wieser Concrete Products, suggested he apply for a scholarship through the NPCA Foundation. Though Hess had been saving money for his education since he began working at the age of 13, the Foundation’s support has been critical in helping to achieve his career goals.
“I’m responsible for putting myself through college,” Hess said. “I’ve been able to save my money and pay for most of college, but now that I’m a junior, most of that money has run out. It’s nice to have a little extra boost to keep me going.”
Hess’ internship with the Wieser family made him quickly realize that gaining experience in real-world settings as a supplement to what can be learned in the classroom is vital. To branch out, last semester he took a position with Construction Geotechnical Consultants (CGC) in Madison, Wis. After focusing on production at the Wieser plant, Hess was able to experience a more technical side of the construction industry.
“I took tests on concrete, including slump tests, air tests, compaction tests and things like that with the soil,” Hess said. “I never knew that you have to check your slump because your water-to-cement ratio might be too high.”
As part of his experience with CGC, Hess also had the opportunity to work on the renovation of the Edgewater Hotel in downtown Madison. He noted that working on the project has paid numerous dividends.
“Just being on site was a really great experience, because I was able to not only take tests but also converse with superintendents and project managers to see their viewpoints and what their roles are,” he said. “With that, I was able to gain good relationships with them, which could lead to something in the future.”
Both extracurricular opportunities have had a major impact on Hess’ studies, as he now believes he can more quickly grasp course material. As an added bonus, Hess stated he feels his experiences have helped pave the way for additional opportunities looking ahead.
“My time with Wieser Concrete and CGC has opened doors for me,” Hess said. “I’ve found that it’s very valuable to have that hands-on experience, because it helps things more easily fall into place. Thanks to my prior positions, this summer I will be interning at Hensel Phelps.”
Through the power of family and with the support of the Foundation, Hess continues to move closer to earning his degree. And though he has grown considerably over the years, he’s still just as passionate and energetic as that 2-year-old boy, hammer in hand, willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Mason Nichols is NPCA’s communication coordinator.