By Sara Geer
UW-Platteville graduate Sarah Hochmuth benefits from NPCA Foundation connections.
Applying to nine summer internships and receiving nine rejection notices would cause some to wonder what they’re doing wrong. Yet, Sarah Hochmuth, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville at the time, didn’t let that keep her down. She kept moving forward with her summer plans to attend the 2017 ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition, sponsored by NPCA’s Foundation, held in Golden, Colo. While there, something better than she could have imagined occurred.
Hochmuth said the school had a good chance to attend nationals the year she joined the UW-Platteville concrete canoe team.
“I was like, ‘How do you do that? Explain it to me,’” she said. “I was very interested in it, so I joined the team, and we did end up going to nationals, which was held in Colorado.”
While in Colorado, there’s something to be said about being in the right place at the right time, which is the exact scenario Hochmuth found herself in one night. Her team was eating dinner at the hotel restaurant at the same time as Greg and Lisa Roache, president and vice president of Gainey’s Concrete Products in Holden, La.
Greg said he recognized the team from the concrete canoe competition, where the Foundation had a hospitality tent, and decided to introduce himself and ask each team member what they were studying. When he reached Hochmuth and found out she had received nine internship rejections, he handed her his business card and made a commitment to find her a summer job.
“We are big advocates of interns,” Roache said. “When do we get busy? During the summer months. And when are interns available? During the summer months. It’s a viable resource to give some extra help.
“It’s a win-win for the precaster and the intern.”
Hochmuth said when she heard the confidence in Roache’s voice, her heart was racing. She didn’t think it was going to happen.
“I was amazed that could even be possible because he had asked us where we live,” Hochmuth said. “I said I lived in Wisconsin, and he goes, ‘Oh, I know somebody who I can get you an internship with there.’ And that’s how I got in contact with Mark Wieser.”
Taking a risk
When Wieser, vice president of Wieser Concrete Products, received an email from Roache that said Hochmuth was looking to get some job experience, he jumped at the opportunity to have her visit the Portage plant.
The company had never had an intern before but decided to follow the free, online internship template the NPCA Foundation, in partnership with Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute Foundation, had created.
“She was living about an hour away from our office, so she drove up Sarah Hochmuth and did an interview,” Wieser said. “I offered her a mini internship for the rest of the summer because there was only 6 weeks left by the time she could start.
“So, we turned a 12-week internship into a 6-week one, and she spent one week in every department.”
Hochmuth started out the first week working in the shop tying rebar and ended the last week making CAD drawings for actual projects. The hands-on experience showed her how each product was put together from design to on-site installation. She even applied what she learned in the classroom when the quality assurance manager explained cylinder and slump testing.
“Another thing I thought was cool was how many people that work at Wieser Concrete are specialists at their jobs and are very good at what they do,” Hochmuth said. “I was in their shoes for a couple of days, but I couldn’t imagine doing some of the things they do on a daily basis. If I could have a fraction of their knowledge, that, to me, would be amazing.”
Wieser said when Hochmuth finished the internship, his reluctance about hosting internships disappeared, and he saw for the first time the many benefits it offered the company. The internship allowed Wieser to see the potential in Hochmuth, and he invited her to come back the following summer to work on CAD drawings. After the second summer, she also worked on drawings remotely during her last semester at college.
After graduating in December 2018, she was offered a full-time position at Wieser Concrete in the drafting department.
“When we followed the Foundation internship template, it really was painless and beneficial,” Wieser said. “We not only got a productive employee for the summer, it developed into a full-time position.”
Wieser added that without the National Precast Concrete Association or the Foundation and the benefit of networking with members like Greg and Lisa Roache, he and Hochmuth would not have known about each other.
Roache agrees that networking is NPCA’s biggest benefit.
“Gainey’s exists today because of the power of NPCA’s networking,” he said. “We believe that we give, but we always get more than we give. Because on any given day, on any given subject, I have other precasters who I can call that will stop everything and help me personally and Gainey’s.”
Strong first year
Hochmuth started at Wieser Concrete with no experience in construction or engineering but has thrived in her new job. Wieser said she learns fast, has a great attitude and tries really hard at everything thrown at her. It also has helped that their relationship is built on giving her constant support to learn and grow professionally.
“It’s so nice that Mark’s office is right next to mine,” Hochmuth said. “I come into his office regularly to ask questions, and he’s always willing to help. I’m so grateful for that.”
Midway through her first year, she has worked on many different projects including drawing manholes and box culverts. She finds great joy in the work she does and is thankful every day that she had that chance encounter with Greg and Lisa Roache in Colorado.
“I thought it was sweet of Greg and Lisa to send me an email on the first day I started my full-time position congratulating me on getting hired,” Hochmuth said. “I actually still keep that business card Greg gave me and I’m never throwing it out. There may be a chance I could pay it forward again to someone else.”
Sara Geer is NPCA’s communication manager, and is managing editor of Precast Inc.