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Hepple And Walcott Playing It Safe This Summer

Jim Hepple (left) and Montel Walcott
Jim Hepple (left) and Montel Walcott

Jim Hepple and Montel Walcott are playing it safe this summer.

Members of the Keene State College men’s basketball team, the soon-to-be seniors and occupational safety and health majors are spending their summer working as safety interns for the Walsh Construction Company on the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge (more commonly known as the Q Bridge) and Moses Wheeler Bridge projects in Connecticut.

Both players say they are extremely fortunate to have landed the internship with the prestigious company based in Chicago. “I’m definitely lucky to get this internship,” said Hepple, a native of Newington, Conn. “I don’t think I could have gotten a better one.” “I’m really blessed the way things worked out,” said Walcott, who is from New Haven, Conn. “There’s a lot of things I could be doing this summer, but I’m here working, learning and being productive.”

Keene State men’s basketball coach Rob Colbert is pleased that his players took the initiative to get the internship and gain valuable on-the-job work experience. “Most college students are working a little bit and enjoying the summer, and these guys are really working hard and getting training in a field they’re about to go into,” he said. “Internships have become a very big gateway, especially in that profession. Hopefully they’re doing a great job and it will lead to something bigger for both of them after they graduate.” After learning about the internship at a job fair at the College, the pair didn’t have much time to pack up belongings and put on their hardhats for the job, which began on May 6 and will conclude on August 23.

Walcott also liked the fact that the Q Bridge (“Q” referring to the Quinnipiac River) is located in his hometown of New Haven, making the commute and the early 6 a.m. start time a little bit easier. “It’s nice to come home and work and not have to travel far,” he said. The Q Bridge project is immense and expensive. The bridge, which carries Interstate 95 over the Quinnipiac, is currently being replaced by a $554 million, 10-lane bridge. It’s on track to become the first extradosed bridge in the country when it fully opens in 2016. Hopping into their company truck each morning, Hepple and Walcott spend the day cruising the 1,443.2-meter site, looking to check on and help the multitude of crew workers scattered around the bridge. “We basically look out for common hazards or things they could slip, trip or fall on,” said Hepple. “It’s not like being a safety cop – it’s more to let them know that they could be at risk.”

Engaging a diverse workforce on a daily basis isn’t easy – especially for two students still in school. Walcott says his background has come in handy. “When you work in construction you also have to realize that you’re going to be working with guys with a lot of different personalities,” said Walcott. “Being from the area helped me a little because I’m used to being around different types of people. Regardless of their age and experience, you try to talk to them with respect.”

Their basketball backgrounds have also come in handy. Both Hepple, who played at Newington High, and Walcott, a product of Hyde Leadership High, came to Keene State following standout scholastic careers. A scrappy player who can score and get to the rim, Hepple has provided the Owls with a spark off the bench the past three seasons, while Walcott, who led his high school team to a perfect 27-0 record and the Connecticut State (Class S) championship as a senior, has been a key front-line player who has made his presence felt under the basket at KSC.

Expected to serve as captains on the 2013-14 Owl team, Hepple and Walcott are getting an opportunity to hone their leadership skills this summer. “I’m learning how to manage a team,” said Walcott, who along with Hepple is playing in several summer basketball leagues in the area.

“When you work out here in the field, you’re a captain of this team. This is a much bigger team, but you’re still trying to work with everybody to solve problems and find a solution together.”

A recent company newsletter that showed the pair wearing their KSC uniforms also facilitated conversation between the two interns and the workers. “I think a lot of the workers respected us a little bit more after they found out we were basketball players,” said Hepple. “They speak to us a little bit more, and of course they want to talk about basketball.”

The internship has been an eye-opening experience, enabling them to correlate their classroom work with their on-the-job training. “You don’t really know what it’s like until you’re out there and you see how everything works at the site,” said Hepple. “I’ve learned so much this summer.”

“Everything I learned in the classroom is definitely being applied in the field,” said Walcott. “I don’t necessarily know how to do every single thing, but it’s not like I haven’t seen it before.”

“I know I’m going to return to the classroom with more confidence,” added Hepple. “Things that sounded foreign to me are now going to be more familiar.”

Undecided about their field of study when they arrived at Keene State, they each picked construction safety because of the daily diversity of the occupation and the availability of jobs in the field. “Getting a decent job after I graduate is the most important thing for me,” said Walcott. “A lot of people get degrees and either don’t use them or can’t find a job. It was important to me to find a job in my field. After all, why not take advantage of all the things you learned and money you spent for it?” Both Hepple and Walcott hope their internships pave the way to jobs when they graduate. “The internship has definitely put me in the right position and put me in contact with the right people, so right now the ball is in my court,” said Walcott. “All I have to do is take care of my end of the bargain and I should be all set.”

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