Interning with FOX Engineering – “an enlightening experience”

FOX Engineering Associates, Inc., in Ames, Iowa, offers internships to a select few engineering students. We are diligent about searching out those engineering students who have shown capacity for learning and a dedication to the water/wastewater industry. The following thoughts come from our summer 2016 intern, Jonathan Contag, who will begin his graduate studies at Iowa State University in September. I had the pleasure of talking with him just before his internship came to a close.

This has perhaps been my favorite internship because I got to work on water/wastewater projects that were geared toward my interests. I’ve had other internships where I didn’t feel like I was bringing value, whether that was ripping up carpet for a contractor or creating another document to put away in a folder.

At FOX, I felt as though I got to apply what I learned in school to my job and it created a different and exciting perspective. And, I had the pleasure of working with 6 experienced FOX engineers on a wide variety of water/wastewater projects, visiting job sites, and attending construction progress meetings. Most days were different, and everyday presented different problems.

Designing any system is a trial and error process requiring problems to be addressed, solved, evaluated, and most likely redesigned. That’s part of the process and not a lot of students know that – they think “I solve the problem. I’m done.” But the solution may impact other variables or the client has new requests needing to be integrated, and those all have to be addressed in order to make the client happy and the design work.

I also got to work with a wide variety of people besides engineers – everyone from city administrators to contracting project managers to people here in our office.

My Work

  • North Liberty Reverse Osmosis (RO) water treatment plant; I worked on the hydraulics calculations for the water plant and wells and looked at different operating scenarios affecting headloss. I was able to compare with and verify previous calculations.
  • Grimes RO water treatment plant phase II: I designed the layout inside the building including piping, valves, bag filters, low service booster pumps, and the RO skid placement. I also used water modeling to calculate contaminant concentrations and the water’s aggressiveness as a result of blending bypass water with permeate. Knowing the percentage of bypass water helped me to size the piping based on a specific velocity range required per piping material. This project gave me the opportunity to work on and observe the different phases of design.
  • Grimes RO Facility Plan: I designed the preliminary layout of a future building housing new RO skids with piping, valves, bag filters, cartridge filters, chemical feed and high service pumps. This required population and water usage projections to appropriately define a design flowrate/target population.
  • Grimes RO pilot study report: I developed RO contaminant removal graphs and analyzed a pilot study report from a contractor.
  • Large industrial client: I completed data entry from their Monthly Operating Reports to develop graphs and view trends; this contributed to the process design for wastewater treatment.
  • Used wastewater computer modeling software called “Biowin” for nutrient removal concepts.
  • I reviewed and verified valve schedules for two different projects and did a lot of smaller projects on the side.

“So, how was it, Jonathan?”

The exciting part for me was that I was able to design something – doing the layout for the new RO plant was exciting and eye opening. Reviewing shop drawings and specs? Not so much. But that’s part of experiencing the real world of an engineering consulting firm. There will be parts you don’t enjoy as much but each part is vital to the outcome – giving the client the best end product you can. On a scale of 1 to 4 (4 is the best), my experience at FOX Engineering ranks at a 4.


There is an interconnected network at FOX. People are friendly and more than willing to help and show you how things are done so you’re not a fish out of water. On the other hand, people are busy and don’t always have time to explain; that’s frustrating but it forced me to push forward, do what I can do on my own, then ask questions, and move along. The reality is that people can’t always take the time, give you background information, and always answer questions. For some people this will be part of their learning curve. In the end, it motivates you to use your engineering problem-solving skills to figure out the questions. Something I’ve taken to each internship is to do your research, put your questions together, and do more research. Then go with the list to your supervisor. You’re maximizing your time with that individual and sometimes yourself. It’s just more efficient.

Would you do this again?

Yes. Yes I would. Water/wastewater is my passion because it is a fundamental resource for life on earth. As we move forward into the future, our designs and technology will become more efficient, we will reclaim more and cleaner water, and our way of life will significantly improve. I love being a part of a forward-thinking design firm like FOX Engineering. As for the atmosphere at work, FOX has a great company culture, and it is clearly evident employees enjoy coming into work. For me, company culture is one of the most important aspects of a company because it ultimately defines the work environment and determines whether individuals are fit for that environment.

Words of wisdom …

My advice to aspiring interns? Don’t take a job if your hopes for a particular culture aren’t a good fit with the company you’re looking at. Be prepared to work hard, think outside the box, research, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.


A note from the interviewer, Terry Lynch, FOX Engineering: It was a pleasure having Jonathan here in our office this summer. His words of wisdom have foundation – he showed a great willingness to take his own advice! We are very happy that his experience was positive. We will stay in touch and look forward to seeing what the next chapter, graduate school, holds for him. Best wishes, Jonathan!



FOX Engineering is an environmental engineering firm based in Ames, Iowa. We specialize in water and wastewater solutions for our diverse municipal and industrial clients. Our work varies in size and scope and can be found throughout the Midwest and beyond.