A Conversation With Acentech’s 2023 Summer Interns
“This internship hammered home that I would like to work in the acoustics field after my master’s. I loved the breadth of projects and that nearly everyone here has a different educational and professional background.”—Abbie Snyder, 2023 Summer Intern
This summer, Acentech brought on several interns to dive into the world of acoustics and get a glimpse of what a career in this field consists of. These amazing individuals have had unique and transformative experiences this summer and we wanted to spotlight their experience!
Anna Quiros, Luke Ellis, Ismael Diaz Mateo, and D.J. Bray spent this summer working alongside the Arch Mech group and Abbie Snyder worked alongside the Noise and Vibration group.
Gabby Pierre-Louis joined Acentech as an intern in May, and became an Acoustics Consultant here in July. Due to her recent experience as an intern, we’re excited to include her perspective and view on the internship position prior to becoming a Consultant, and what it taught her.
What drew you to apply for an internship at Acentech?
Abbie: I spoke with an employee at Acentech in the fall of 2022 during RPI’s career fair. The session intrigued me, as I had minored in Architectural Acoustics during my Civil Engineering undergrad: the position seemed like a great fit for my background! After talking about the types of projects Acentech takes on and the diverse backgrounds of the consultants on staff, I knew I had to apply.
Anna: I took Kelsey Rogers’ Architectural Acoustics class at Tufts! This was actually my first introduction to acoustics—and while the class was challenging, I really enjoyed the content. I loved the intersection of sound and engineering, and being able to apply it to the world around me.
D.J.: I’ve always had an interest in music, both artistically and scientifically. This has made me want to explore sound more generally, and since there were no acoustics courses at my university, the only way I could do that was through a summer internship. This led me to apply to the SURIEA program, which ultimately led me to Acentech. [The Summer Undergraduate Research or Internship Experience in Acoustics, or SURIEA, is a program of the Acoustical Society of America, and Acentech is a proud participant.]
Gabby: As a long-time musician, I developed an interest in architectural acoustics after taking classes on the fundamentals of acoustics and noise control. While searching for jobs, I was looking for well-established acoustical consulting firms with an environment perfect for working and learning. Acentech seemed to be the best fit for me (and it has lived up to its expectations)!
Ismael: I was looking for an internship in the field of music engineering and then I heard of Acentech through some of my professors, including Kelsey. I ended up meeting with a couple of people working at Acentech and even though I wasn’t 100% sure about the field of acoustics yet, the environment and projects that Acentech took on were motivating to me. Acentech sounded like a great place to work and the people I talked to were very friendly and encouraging.
Luke: I only recently discovered the field of acoustic consulting, and when I did, I immediately started reaching out to alumni of my university in the field. One of them was working at Acentech at the time, and they agreed to have a Zoom call with me. They told me all about their work and the company, and this conversation prompted me to apply for this internship and explore the field further. I am very thankful for that conversation with them and the opportunity to work here this summer.
How does your degree coursework support your work at Acentech?
Anna: Many concepts in mechanical engineering tie into acoustics consulting, especially regarding fluid dynamics, structural dynamics, and the physics of sound. A number of my courses have also challenged me to improve my technical writing skills, which are beneficial in writing reports and notes at Acentech.
Abbie: My undergraduate coursework was mainly in structural engineering, but I picked up minors in French Horn Performance and Architectural Acoustics. With the exception of basic engineering degree requirements like Chem 1, I feel that I’ve probably used small pieces of every class I have taken in both my undergrad and master’s programs. Everything from geophysics to orchestra to concrete design can help – I was surprised by how applicable even seemingly unrelated courses became!
D.J.: Because I spent most of my time doing a psychoacoustics project, I was able to draw upon a lot of my previous cognitive science coursework. I honestly didn’t expect that to be the case with an acoustics internship, so I’m really glad that Acentech was able to find a project that suited my interests.
Gabby: My undergraduate coursework was general engineering with an emphasis on mechanical engineering with theater sound design and how audio interacts with the acoustics of a performance space. I also had a couple of classes on the physics of acoustics and noise control. The material I learned wasn’t really applied to architectural acoustics situations, so it’s been super interesting getting to see it in real-world applications.
Ismael: I study Mechanical Engineering at Tufts and am working on a music engineering degree. My major really helped out when it came to doing research and simulations, things just came more naturally for me. Since I had also taken Kelsey Roger’s architectural acoustics course, I had some knowledge of topics like reverberation time and the physics of sound which made understanding some of the recommendations for performance rooms make sense.
Luke: With my Information Science major, I have a strong background in data science, math, and statistics. With my Music major, I perform and think about music all the time. In addition to my majors, I have taken engineering core classes and electives that address acoustics more directly. A wide range of skills must be utilized within acoustics since there are many varieties of both quantitative analyses and qualitative considerations behind every decision. If I were to restart college today, I might make a few different decisions with my coursework, but I still believe every course I have taken thus far has benefited me in this line of work.
Were there any ‘aha!’ moments during your internship that helped you connect theoretical with practical concepts?
Anna: So many! One area that really piqued my interest was sound masking. Before this internship, speech privacy was—in my head—achieved solely through sound isolation. I had no idea how effective broadband noise, or even just a longer reverberation time, could be for speech privacy.
Abbie: In my graduate studies, I learned a bit about footfall analysis and the AISC’s Design Guide 11, but never experienced the testing process or calculation. Within three days of starting at Acentech, I was in the field dropping barbells and sledgehammers to excite a floor for a proposed fitness center. The experience demonstrated to me many of the phenomena outlined in Design Guide 11!
D.J.: Creating a virtual model of a room and hearing it at varying levels of absorption was the first time I was able to fully appreciate all of the absorption and reverberation concepts I’d been learning about all summer. It’s one thing to learn the numbers and equations, but that didn’t have the same effect as hearing it for myself.
Gabby: I learned a ton about damping and vibration basics in school. So, it was cool to see how that’s related to the work that our noise and vibration team does.
Ismael: This internship was very educational and I experienced ‘aha!’ moments almost on a daily basis. There was so much from how to reduce background noise, to the multitude of options there are for floor isolators, vibration control, to silencers inside of HVAC which I didn’t know was a thing before this summer. My favorite is probably Ben’s demonstration of how to do proper noise isolation with his bell in a box, he really hammered down the concept of how sound travels through source-path-receiver.
Luke: There seemed to be an ‘aha’ moment at least once a week! Very often, a term or idea that a course had tried to teach me clarified itself when in the context of a project or a graph, or a measurement. The culture at Acentech values a lifetime of learning and discovery, and it is exciting to be a part of that environment. The field of acoustics itself seems to be constantly expanding and Acentech works in many industries, so I am sure that even Acentech’s most experienced employees encounter ‘aha!’ moments from time to time.
What were some of the more interesting assignments you undertook during your internship?
Anna: I found building HVAC noise paths and calculations to be surprisingly fun—it felt like putting together pieces of a puzzle. I also enjoyed writing an acoustical recommendations narrative. There were so many components that we needed to consider, and I learned a lot from the process.
Abbie: Acentech project work has put me everywhere from active construction sites to beneath the Green Line extension to the rooftops of downtown Boston clubs. It’s definitely too hard to pick the most interesting!
D.J.: I spent most of my internship building a hearing loss model, which ended up being a very complicated process. It helped me learn a lot about psychoacoustics and made me want to continue studying hearing loss in the future.
Gabby: I had the opportunity to work on a 3D listening model with a few other people as an internal research project for an Acentech project that is still in design. We got to play around with different listener positions, absorption settings, and seating arrangements. I was amazed at the possibilities of the software we use as there are still so many variables that could be changed.
Ismael: One interesting assignment for me was NIC testing. Going from looking at documents that talk about noise isolation to actually seeing products do noise isolation and being able to put those results into real numbers that tell how good a partition is was fascinating. I think it’s cool to know that we can do our own testing of the performance of a partition inside of a room compared to just having the data that manufacturers give.
Luke: As someone new to this field, I found every job that came across my desk interesting. Some of them were like being a sound detective. Others called for more mathematical analysis. And my favorites required us to hop in a car and hear it for ourselves. I got to work in Acentech’s lab spaces on my own project, and I even got to jam with some other Acentech musicians in the office. One of the most attractive things about this field is the wide range of work and topics that you move between every day. While I may be doing the same base calculation in two different jobs, a level of critical thinking is always required.
What are a few things you would like to learn more about or take back with you to apply during your formal studies?
Anna: There are too many things that I want to learn more about! But, the biggest thing I would like to improve is my intuition about sound and vibration.
Abbie: This summer, I did a lot of research into what I lovingly referred to as “dirt acoustics”. I was really interested to learn about this subset of acoustics, as it was right under my nose throughout my undergrad in structural and geotechnical engineering. I am excited to take some of the literature back to school and share it with my civil engineering peers!
D.J.: I would like to continue learning more about psychoacoustics, as there is still a lot of mystery regarding the way our brain processes sound. I don’t think I will be able to apply much of what I learned to my formal studies, although I do plan on utilizing it for my music production.
Gabby: I have already finished my formal studies but will most likely do grad school in the future. I would like to learn more about spatial sound and 3D audio. Purdue had amazing programs for psychoacoustics and audio engineering, but I didn’t have the time or space in addition to my required classes. I would love to take a deep dive into psychoacoustics to understand why we do what we do and how essential it truly is.
Ismael: I would like to learn more about everything that Acentech does because I find so many things very interesting. Even though I was given projects to learn from, I know there is a lot more which can be fascinating. One thing that I will take with me is organization and prioritization. Occasionally, I would have to work on multiple projects at once and I learned how to structure them to make things work out; I think this is a very valuable skill. After this summer, I don’t think I will ever not have large sticky notes on me to keep myself on track.
Luke: Working here this summer certainly highlighted the academic foundations I need to study further (cough, cough, physics…). While I understood most things at the surface level, I felt like I still had some work to do before fully understanding these systems and concepts. Now that I have the context for these concepts though, I bet they become much easier to study and understand in a classroom setting as I head back for my senior year of college. This internship will likely give me a stronger motivation to really make sure I comprehend these topics in school.
What are your hopes after graduation?
Anna: I hope to attend graduate school for acoustics, then come work at a consulting firm—hopefully Acentech!
Abbie: This internship hammered home that I would like to work in the acoustics field after my Master’s. I loved the breadth of projects and that nearly everyone here has a different educational and professional background. You can learn so much not only from the work but from “water cooler chats” with other employees who may have studied anything from music to aerospace engineering.
D.J.: I would like to continue learning more about sound, the brain, and the relationship between the two.
Gabby: I graduated from Purdue this past December and got hired as a full-time consultant at the end of my internship here in July!
Ismael: I hope to start working in the field of acoustics consulting and make a plan for graduate school. I hope to work at Acentech, as I would not go for a working environment that isn’t on par with Acentech.
Luke: I have long had an interest in both music and STEM, and this summer demonstrated to me that acoustics sits at a beautiful sweet spot between the two fields. I hope to get a graduate degree in an acoustics-related program and then apply those skills in either the acoustic consulting industry or the tech industry. And of course, if the opportunity to be a professional keyboard player ever arises, I might have to switch to that (at least for a little while).
Any words of wisdom or perspective that you’d like to share with others that might be considering a career in acoustics, vibration, technology, or other aspects of the AEC industry?
Abbie: Rest assured that this field is accepting of everyone from so many educational and professional backgrounds. Do not feel that you cannot pursue acoustics because your background does not seem relevant. I have met professional musicians, aerospace engineers, computer scientists, architects, and everything in between while working at Acentech. Everyone is welcome, and everyone brings unique perspectives to the table.
D.J.: Don’t mistake a lack of knowledge for a lack of interest. A lot of these topics may seem dull, but there’s a good chance that your idea of them will change once you start understanding them.
Gabby: It’s never too late to get started! There are so many people at Acentech who, for many years, worked in a different field like civil engineering or mechanical engineering design and somehow found their way into acoustics and consulting.
Luke: I truly believe this line of work benefits from having a diverse set of thinkers. Based on the many backgrounds at Acentech, there does not seem to be one or two “correct” ways of entering the field. So, if you think you might be interested, do not let an “inapplicable” major or background stop you. You would be surprised at how useful a seemingly irrelevant skillset can be.