FPE News Story

A Summer Internship in Fire Protection Engineering in Dubai

A Summer Internship in Fire Protection Engineering in Dubai

Above: FPE junior Breanne Thompson on a desert safari in Dubai. Below: Thompson at the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world.
Above: FPE junior Breanne Thompson on a desert safari in Dubai. Below: Thompson at the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world.

University of Maryland junior Breanne Thompson has been an enthusiastic student of fire protection engineering since her accidental discovery of the major, securing her first summer internship before she had even finished her freshman year. In early 2015, she was already thinking about finding her second. She ultimately accepted a position with WSP | Parsons Brinkerhoff’s (WSP | PB) office in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Now that she’s back on campus, the Department of Fire Protection Engineering (FPE) asked her to tell us more about how she ended up on the other side of the world, and what she learned there.

FPE: How did you get an internship in Dubai?

Breanne Thompson: WSP | PB came to FPE’s Career Fair back in February. The day before the career fair, they held an informational session about the company. I was extremely impressed and fascinated by the types of projects they work on, the many things to do in Dubai, and the way they explained the culture of the company. They told me to email them my resume. I did that and shortly after, they said they would like to interview me. At the interview, I could tell that their ideas of what an intern should experience lined up very well with what I expected to do. Within a week, I received an unofficial offer from the company, and I accepted without any hesitation.

FPE: How did the location factor into your decision?

BT: I have always had an interest in going abroad, but I had not found any companies willing to take undergraduate students to international offices. Opportunities like this do not come around often, especially after only completing two years of college. The thought of being in Dubai for a full summer was extremely intriguing to me.

Breanne in Dubai

FPE: Did you have any reservations about living and working in the Middle East?

BT: Before I went to the information session, I did not have any interest in working there because of my false impression that all areas of the Middle East are dangerous. At the information session, I was immediately surprised, because I was greeted by employees who were Central American and British. I expected that the majority of the people I would encounter in Dubai would be Arabs, but when I got there, I quickly learned that over 80 percent of the population is made up of expats. Many of the companies there are extremely diverse. WSP | PB does not discriminate based on gender, race, or nationality. The respect I received was phenomenal. I also found that Dubai is really safe.

FPE: What was your job like? How did it contribute to your growth as a future fire protection engineer?

BT: I was able to work on many different aspects of fire protection engineering, including analyzing and reviewing designs for fire suppression and life safety systems. I was able to go on site visits. I learned so much by seeing how the things we learn in school are implemented in the buildings we occupy. In one project, I conducted a fire and life safety review of the Rosewood Hotel Tower, which converted four penthouse suites into one big penthouse that occupied an entire floor. The life safety analysis required me to comply with Abu Dhabi Fire and Building Codes and international codes, and it was unique due to the large area of the apartment. A simple application of the apartment requirements in accordance with NFPA 101 would not be sufficient. This resulted in a multifaceted strategy in order to address the travel distances and fire suppression systems. I also had to opportunity to contribute to the report that was sent to the client. I gained a lot of confidence in my work, because I was put on projects that required me to spend a lot of time reading and fully understanding the fire code. I also feel I now have a better idea of how to work with people from different cultural backgrounds than mine. 

FPE: Were you assigned a mentor? 

BT: Yes. In fact, he’s a Terp! His name is Eddie Arias [B.S. ’13, physical sciences]. He helped me out tremendously on work-related projects, and he was also an amazing friend who helped me out socially. He introduced me to many of his friends and showed me around some of the interesting places in Dubai. 

FPE: When you weren’t working, what did you see and do?

BT: A wonderful thing about living in Dubai is its proximity to many amazing places, including the other Emirates. I went to Abu Dhabi a few times. I went snorkeling in Fujairah. I also flew to Salalah, Oman with some Americans I met in Dubai. I had an unforgettable experience in Salalah that I doubt I could have had if I was not in Dubai this summer.

There is so much to do just in Dubai as well. I have seen camels on the beach, went on a desert safari, tried indoor skiing, visited the top of the Burj Khalifa [the tallest skyscraper in the world], went to the beach, went shopping in Dubai Mall – which is the biggest in the world – and visited the souks [open air marketplaces]. There are restaurants everywhere. In just one week I ate Japanese, African, Yemeni, Omani, and Italian food!

FPE: What were your biggest challenges?

BT: I experienced culture shock. In Dubai, women can drive, work, and go out whenever they please. Being an expat can be tough, though, because I found that many people stared at me as if they were studying something they have never seen before. There are many laws that differ significantly from those in the U.S.A. I learned to make adjustments, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.

FPE: What are the best things you got out of the experience?

BT: The integration of so many different cultures changed my views of the world and inspired me to dream bigger. The wonderful people at WSP | PB made me want to continue to push myself to be the best Breanne that I can be, inside and outside of the office. My bosses were extremely personable and humble, and made it a pleasure to work for them.  I feel that the greatest way to learn and grow is through experience and exposure. That is exactly what I was provided with, and I thank God for blessing me with this amazing opportunity to work abroad.

October 1, 2015

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