A two-time former CityWorks intern and current Transportation Planner at HNTB Corporation, Karl Clayter first came to appreciate public transit as a student riding MUNI and BART to get to high school. Growing up in the Bay Area, Clayter had always been interested in trains and airplanes. As he grew older, he began to understand other means of public transportation as important community assets.
“Growing up, the only way to get out of town was to take the bus to BART. Trying to move around the Bay fostered both my love and dependence on the public transit system and made me want to become an advocate for it.”
For two summers, Clayter interned at Bay Area engineering firms through the CityWorks program, which helped him channel his interest into a future career and find a place as a public transit advocate and construction planning career professional.
“I knew I wanted to be an advocate for transit, but I didn’t want to be an engineer. CityWorks exposed me to all the different players and aspects in construction and design, and showed me that there really is an avenue for everyone in this space.”
Operated through a partnership between the SFPUC and the nonprofit Young Community Developers, CityWorks provides paid summer internships to youth from the Bay Area, with an emphasis on San Francisco’s Southeast community. The program is made possible through the SFPUC’s Social Impact Partnership Program, which is a result of the commitments made and delivered by private firms working on SFPUC infrastructure projects. Interns are placed at engineering and construction firms working on SFPUC capital projects across San Francisco, and introduced to careers in the construction, infrastructure and utility sectors.
As a CityWorks intern, Clayter toured the construction site for the developing Salesforce Transit Center in downtown San Francisco and learned about station design with the infrastructure firm Parsons. During his second summer with CityWorks, he interned with Carollo Engineers, where he learned how to read technical engineering language and gleaned skills in construction Project Management.
“A breakthrough moment was when another intern and I were in the San Francisco office with all the printed engineering plans laid out on the table in front of us and physically put them together like a puzzle to see how all the pipes and project pieces aligned. It was exciting to put them together and realize we understood these complicated drawings.”
CityWorks also provides students with the opportunity to build relationships with utility-related career professionals and gain insight into the day to day experience of various careers. Clayter found an advocate and his “most influential boss ever” during his internship with Carollo Engineers working under former Carollo CityWorks mentor Pavitra Prabhakar.
“Pavitra gave me life and career advice. She taught me how to advocate for myself in a career setting. She also showed me what it means to be passionate about a job and to seek that out in my own career.”
Prabhakar shared her own experience working with Clayter, “I originally got involved as a mentor because it was a good opportunity to give back. I met a lot of great students, and Karl was an exceptionally curious and interested student. I set up lunches for Karl to meet people working on different positions at our offices and get exposure to all the different types of jobs that make an engineering firm work. I remember during one lunch, the individual we met began asking Karl typical interview questions and Karl actually stumped him with his response because it was so good. It was quite impressive and illustrated what a special and talented person Karl is.”
Clayter graduated from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania in 2020 and returned to the Bay Area to begin a career at HNTB Corporation in construction planning. His current workload is centered on public transit: community engagement and planning for both the Transbay Rail Crossing and the BART San Jose Extension Project. In the future, Clayter hopes to further his career by attending graduate school in transportation management.
“Changing the physical environment can take a long time, but it has a large impact on the community with the potential for real tangible benefits. It feels good to have found a job where I can work with the community on these projects, and live my dream career everyday.”
As Clayter reflects on his experience as a CityWorks intern, he offers some encouraging advice to those wanting to learn more about the program.
“Future CityWorks interns should remember that they have a lot of knowledge by just being aware and involved with their own community. Having the context of the history and culture of the area where these big infrastructure projects are taking place is a huge advantage. You should feel confident knowing that your perspective is valuable and that you can have a positive impact.”