Running is one of Taylor LaFountain’s favorite ways to clear her head. It’s something she’s been doing her whole life. So, when she chose to attend a college in a city, with all its traffic and stoplights, she was uncertain if she could continue the practice. Until she found the Schuylkill River Trail.
“It’s a place to escape,” the fourth-year civil and architectural engineering major says of the 120-mile multi-use path that runs through Philadelphia and other parts of southeastern Pennsylvania. “The trees, the grass, the river — it’s so nice. I ran there almost every day in my first year on campus, and I’ve been using it regularly since.”
When she started searching for her latest co-op position, her appreciation for the trail drew her attention to one employer in the co-op job listings in particular: Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.
“Beyond my own appreciation for outdoor spaces, I know how important parks and rec centers and the programming they offer are for communities,” LaFountain says. “I wanted to go and work for a company that has been really important to my life in the city.”
LaFountain is working on the Capital Projects Group, which renovates playground equipment, lighting, benches, pathways and buildings at city parks and rec centers. She says that the training she’s received in her architectural engineering classes is helping her succeed in the job.
“There’s more planning to a playground than you would think,” she says. “There needs to be six feet of fall space between each piece of equipment, and slides need to face either north or east so they don’t get too much direct sunlight. So I spend a lot of time in CAD, meticulously planning the layout so that nothing overlaps.”
The co-op experience so far has given LaFountain opportunities to figure out which aspects of engineering she is most interested in, but the job at Park and Recreation has given her something more — a chance to serve others.
“Parks are community gathering spaces, and places where children can play and grow safely” she says. ”No matter if you’re a regular visitor to a park or someone who’s passing through for the first time, fresh air and green space provide so many health benefits. To contribute to all of that is particularly rewarding.”
As she prepares to return to the classroom, LaFountain emphasizes how the co-op experience has shaped her approach to engineering moving forward.
“As important as it is to learn in the classroom, where you get familiar with all the math and science that you're going to need to know, getting out in the field can show you a different side of engineering,” she said. “It can be more artistic and more creative than you thought it was going to be. You need to be curious as an engineer – ask questions, collaborate with people, and learn from all their different perspectives.”