Majors: Biology & Environmental Studies
Year of Graduation: 2008
Current Job Title: Estimator/Project Manager at Quam Construction Co., Willmar, MN
How did you decide on your major and career path?
Going into my first year I was dead set on being a Biology major; however, I didn't know what to focus on for a minor. Environmental Studies sounded interesting simply because my hobbies involved hunting, fishing, camping, etc. After talking to Derek Larson I realized that double majoring in Biology and Environmental Studies was very feasible. The summer after my junior year I took a job with the U.S. Forest Service in the Sierra National Forest of California. I was on a wildlife crew that conducted bird surveys. During that summer I learned that my dream job of biology was not all I had hoped. It would require a lot of time in the office and not outside; also I felt my work was not making a difference - that my data was not actually being utilized to help the birds. During my senior year I wanted to find a job where I had a mixture of office and field work, but more importantly, that my work would actually have an impact - make a change for the better for the world. So I began to look for jobs in the environmental field and ended up accepting a Staff Scientist position at ATC Associates Inc. in Minneapolis, MN.
Describe your current position.
My current position is Estimator/Project Manager at Quam Construction Co.; Quam Construction is a utility and earthwork general contractor specializing in water and sewer utilities. I do estimating including developing accurate cost estimates and bidding on construction projects, primarily publicly funded work. Once a project is won and awarded, I manage the project including all contractual aspects, represent the company with clients and consultants related to the project, and make decisions on behalf of the company.
What path did you take to your current position?
The path I took to Quam Construction was not one I imagined as a college graduate. Working in the field of construction management was certainly never an idea that even crossed my mind. However, while working as an Environmental Consultant at ATC Associates, I was exposed to small gas station construction projects. The type of work interested me and the timing of a big construction boom for one of our clients afforded me the opportunity to move into a new position with ATC Associates that focused primarily on the environmental aspects of construction projects. After five and a half years at ATC Associates, I needed a change for personal reasons. That change brought me back home to central Minnesota where I worked for a small low voltage electrical company. It was a very significant career change, as I was heading down a career path away from the environmental field and towards construction. I quickly realized I was unhappy with the position due to the lack of challenges and growth opportunity. I accepted a new position with S.J. Louis Construction (specializes in large diameter water pipelines) as an Assistant Project Manager. It was another significant career change as I had no previous experience with water pipelines. I was immediately placed on a $43 million project; I liked the challenge and learned a lot in a very short period of time. However, I traveled to Wyoming every other week and the future of the company was highly unstable. Therefore, despite the great experience S.J. Louis Construction afforded me, I took a position at Quam Construction as a Project Manager where my responsibilities would remain the same without my personal life suffering (I had gotten married the previous summer). Working for Quam Construction entails less travel, is a more family-friendly environment, and has much better opportunities for growth and career development. I feel like I have found a long-term home at Quam Construction and I am excited about the potential of the company!
What are some of the key skills you use in your position?
The most important skills needed to be successful in construction management are communication, determination, attention to detail, and problem-solving. Long hours are required and everyday offers new problems that seemingly arise out of nowhere. Furthermore, you work with various types of people who have different ways of communicating. If you don't have excellent communication skills along with a sense of anticipation and the ability to make quick decisions, then you will not only fail, but also lose the respect of those with whom you work. Constant and clear communication with the owner, engineer, and your foreman/superintendents is an absolute must.
What suggestions do you have for CSB/SJU students?
CSB/SJU does not have a construction management program; all the skills I've learned have been on the job through a lot of hard work and extra effort. However, CSB/SJU did help me prepare for a career in the professional world by providing me with a holistic view of the world through a liberal arts education.