On a Mission with Michael Spinelli

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Our On a Mission series continues with MGAC intern and Catholic University of America’s School of Architecture and Planning (CUA) student, Michael Spinelli, who’s spent the past seven months working with us in support of American Geophysical Union’s net-zero headquarters renovation project.

We caught up with Michael about his time with MGAC, his memorable first day on the job, and what the lessons he learned about teamwork as a part of the highly-collaborative AGU team.

What attracted you to this particular internship opportunity?

As a student at Catholic University, we’re taught a lot about what sustainability means and how to design sustainably. Catholic does an excellent job with their curriculum to ensure that we are well versed in these topics, but when I heard about this opportunity to intern at MGAC and work on the AGU project, I knew this would be a great chance to expand my interest in sustainable design by applying it to the profession, not just the classroom.

As an architect in training, what did you get out of interning with the project’s owner’s representative?

As an architecture student, I found it extremely valuable to partake in a project from the owner’s representative side. In school, we’re taught to design and design with purpose, which is important for architects. We also learn that we’re supposed to design spaces based on the needs and wants of the owner. Well, this semester I learned how the client determines their needs, and the difference it can make when it comes to designing a space for the users, not just the architect.

What is one of your favorite memories from your internship experience?

My favorite memory was on my first day. Greta Perry invited me to attend an onsite meeting between AGU, MGAC, Hickok Cole, Skanska, and Interface. When we arrived, I did what any intern would do and took a seat in the back of the conference room. Greta immediately invited me to sit at the table and partake in the meeting instead. Also, at the end of the meeting, the team was willing to listen to any questions or comments that I had. It made me feel like a valued member of the design team, and confirmed that this internship wasn’t going to be just about making copies, but that I was going to be a part of a team that made a major impact in the field of design and construction. This became even more apparent when later in the semester I joined fellow intern, David Niven, to give brief presentations to each of the team members on research we conducted on how to improve the building’s Integrated Building Technology. The importance of this research on the final result proved to me that I was truly a valued team member on this project – and for that, I will always be grateful to MGAC and the AGU team.

What was the most valuable takeaway from your time with MGAC and the AGU team?

For me the most valuable takeaway has been seeing what can be achieved when everyone is working as a team. In school, I’ve always heard how important working together is to achieving a design goal, and the impact it can have on the design, the profession, and for the users. I’ve only partially seen this in my previous work experience, as some parties try to work together while others decide to be more selfish and only try to benefit themselves during the project. Not only did working with the AGU team show me how valuable team collaboration can be, it also taught me never to settle when setting my goals. As a student about to enter graduate school, I now know that if I truly want to achieve something, I need to go for it and do it because it’s possible.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to fellow students as they begin seeking their own internships?

One piece of advice I would give to any student looking for an internship is to ask questions and try to get involved. Going into my internship at MGAC I had never worked for an owner’s rep, nor had I ever been involved on such a large-scale renovation project determined to make this type of impact on the community and environment. However, I knew this was a great chance to learn so I asked questions when I had the opportunity. This way I not only gained knowledge, but can now take this knowledge to share with others, and have the chance to apply it in the future.


Want to learn more about how MGAC can help make your mission real? Check out our Careers page or click here to explore current opportunities in your area.

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Laura Ewan

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