Graduation is both an exciting and daunting event for every student in college. With such a wide array of opportunities and a handful of choices to make, the time between graduating and going into the workforce can be a difficult one.
For Alessandra Rosso, this in-between time only lasted one day. After crossing the stage at Manhattan College graduation last May, she had just one day off before immediately going to work as a rebar field engineer for the Tappan Zee Bridge.
For those who aren’t familiar with engineering, rebar are the reinforcing steel bars that go in concrete to make it stronger. Rosso is currently in charge of running the pre-assembly yard at Tomkin’s Cove in Rockland County, which is where the rebar is assembled and inspected. Rosso and her team then send it down the river via boat, where another team is waiting at the bridge to put the rebar in place.
The bridge will take a little over five years to build and cost a hefty $4 billion, but is designed to last 100 years without structural maintenance. The New York State website states, “This new bridge will mean less congestion for motorists, with eight traffic lanes, four breakdown/emergency lanes, and state-of-the-art traffic monitoring systems, as well as a dedicated commuter bus lane from the day it opens.”
A large portion of her job is coordinating with others, which Rosso enjoys, but she says that problem solving on the job is definitely the most fun for her.
“With good planning, we can anticipate issues in the field weeks in advance and engineer solutions to them,” she said. “That’s when I use what I learned in school. I help design things that will be used to make construction easier.”
Her love for engineering was discovered during her senior year of high school. It was at this time that her older sister, a Manhattan College alumnus also with a degree in civil engineering, had been working as a field engineer on the World Trade Center.
“It seemed like controlled chaos with a lot of different variables. It had a real energy to it. I kind of decided then that I would definitely go into engineering,” Rosso said regarding her first visit to the site.
During her first Christmas break at MC, her life took another turn when her sister dragged her out of bed to come to work with her and do a drawing for her boss.
“To be honest, I have no idea what the drawing was of,” Rosso said. “I just knew what specific things they wanted me to change. I guess I did something right because the company then asked me to come back.”
After this, she started working for Granite Construction every day that she had off from school, even taking holidays and weekends.
“I took the shifts that no one wanted,” she said. “I was just an intern doing mostly office work, but I got to be a part of the East Side Access Project in Queens and the World Trade Center in Manhattan.”
By her senior year of college, she returned for another summer internship and was placed on the Tappan Zee Bridge project. Since they were understaffed, Rosso continued to work part-time during school and switched to full-time upon graduating. She said that after graduation, everything changed.
“The bridge boomed, and I was immediately buried in work and the standards were now much higher because I had graduated,” Rosso said. She laughs at herself for not realizing that the one day in between graduating and working was “the calm before the storm.”
“This past summer was the best and worst time of my life,” she said. Her days were extremely long and exhausting, but she was getting to apply the things she had been studying for so long in school to real life.
When reminiscing about graduation, she says she felt she was going to miss her professors, but that she also made a short term goal to return for her master’s degree within the next year or so. Right now, it would be too busy to juggle work and school, so she looks forward to moving on and learning more in the future.
Rosso calls the bridge “a monster that has taken over my life,” but also admits she truly does love it. “Working on a project this big is like standing in front of a really, really big picture. It’s hard to see anything but it.”