Student Spotlight: Ruben Salazar-Izquierdo

Ruben Salazar-Izquierdo sitting in front of Suzzalo Library

Ruben Salazar-Izquierdo, a student in the Masters in Construction Management program, was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 2021. He anticipates finishing the program in June 2022. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide.

We interviewed Ruben to gain insight into his thesis research as a graduate student, and his experience as a Fulbright scholar.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

R: I am from Peru. My undergraduate background is in Civil Engineering and I am in the Masters in Construction Management program on a Fulbright Scholarship. I was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship in 2021 and had the option of applying to five different universities. UW was the best option for me because the Construction Management program was the highest ranked.

I also love to play basketball and do other activities that Seattle provides. Seattle was the perfect fit for me because of the number of outdoor activities I can do here.

What influenced you to choose Construction Management?

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I started working at different construction companies all around Peru. I worked on many civil, industrial, and commercial projects. After that, I realized that I wanted to take a step forward and advance my career. Even as an Assistant Project Manager, I wanted to apply for better positions in the future, like Project Manager or Senior Project Manager. I wanted to learn the many strategies, tactics of negotiation and management tools used in complex projects.

How have you been able to utilize your skills here at UW?

Initially, I was just taking classes, but after that I started working for UW as a grader. I helped undergraduates with topics such as soils and foundations, cost accounting and financial management, and helped students in the continuing education program with project planning and control because these topics are related to my working experience in Peru. Back there, I worked as a scheduler, a cost control engineer, and an assistant project manager.

How does being in a program within the College of Built Environments that houses a diverse set of disciplines benefit you and your work?

In my Masters in Construction Management program, I have had some classmates that are architects and some who are involved in real estate. I would say that the added value of this program is having the opportunity to share experiences and see problems from different perspectives. So, it’s interesting to know their opinions about the same topic because, in my case, my main experience was related to construction, not with design or real estate development.

What challenges have you faced during your educational journey?

Applying to the program was initially very challenging because I needed to do the TOEFL exam and the GRE. I didn’t do well on my first TOEFL exam, but given that I wanted to go to UW, I continued to prepare myself. I started taking more classes and I took the exam again and obtained the score required to get accepted here at UW.

What have been the most impactful experiences you’ve had that have influenced your educational journey?

The most rewarding experience I’ve had is being in an environment that I was not familiar with. I was not able to speak in Spanish, my first language, so I pushed myself to improve my English very quickly in order to interact with more people such as my classmates and professors.

What is the purpose of the Fulbright Scholarship?
The main purpose is to strengthen bilateral relationships–cultural and educational–between the US and our home countries. When you apply to the Fulbright Scholarship, you propose a general idea for a project. Once you arrive at a college or university, you start working with your thesis advisor by providing them with your project idea and start highlighting the possibilities of a thesis topic based on your proposal. The main goal is to have the chance to apply what you are researching abroad in our home countries and create a positive impact once we return.

What is your thesis research?

My research is related to the circular economy and the ability to reuse materials in construction. In general terms, I realized that 60% of the waste in landfills comes from the construction industry; Peru is no exception. In Peru, we were having a period where construction was developing really fast. A lot of the materials we were using had a lot of potential for being recycled or reused in the future. So, I want to focus on this idea from different perspectives, from the perspective of the owner, from the perspective of the designer and also the general contractor. If the designer starts providing some ideas on how to implement these practices of circular economy, the general contractors will adapt the services they provide in order to meet the owner’s and designers requirements.

My thesis topic was awarded the John Schaufelberger Fellowship. It is a very helpful fellowship because it allows me to continue to be here in the US while I am developing this research.

Do you feel as though these practices of circular economy could be implemented in Peru? What do you see as potential barriers?

We will have some barriers, for sure. For example, building codes and other local regulations, and also the idea that you cannot use second hand materials for safety or quality concerns. But if you design the materials for having a second life, or even to have a longer lifespan, it is possible to reuse them. I think it’s going to be possible to implement this idea in the future.

Implementing this idea also starts with the opinion of the owner, if they say, “I want to have this building, but I also want to have the possibility to disassemble this building and reassemble it again in a different place,” obviously, the designer will need to adapt their ideas in order to fulfill the owner’s requirements.

Where do you see yourself after completion of the Construction Management program?

I applied to different companies last year for academic training. I got three job offers from different companies here in the US—all of them very good construction companies recognized all around the country. In the end, I decided to stay here in Seattle and work with Lease Crutcher Lewis, one of the most prestigious construction general contractors in the city. So, I’m excited to move forward with that.

What advice would you give students completing a graduate program at UW or are considering doing the Fulbright program?

Everything is a matter of preparation. For example, I really wanted to study at UW and even though I did not have the required scores needed initially to get in, I continued to push myself harder in order to achieve this goal.

First, you need to establish your goals clearly and start working towards them. If you are not a good English speaker, study English; push yourself to practice everyday. If you did not do well on the GRE, continue to prepare yourself. You also need to be very open minded because it’s a completely new environment. I was open to continuing learning, day after day, which is something really important to do.

In order to prepare, establish contacts. In my case, I had a really good relationship with my thesis advisor, who is also the chair of my department. He guided me all throughout the application process to UW and during classes. I spoke with him continuously asking for course recommendations and about professors to work with.

It is also important to create relationships with your classmates. Especially in construction, everything is about relationships. Many people you take classes with are going to be people whom you are going to work with in the future, maybe as coworkers or for different companies.

What final thoughts do you have about experience or time with the college?

One of the biggest advantages of my department was the relationships they established with different construction companies and design firms in Seattle and the US. Given we are at a prestigious university and my program is very prestigious, we have the possibility to get good job offers and contacts with some of the best companies in the US. This is one of the biggest advantages that UW and my program offer to all its students, it’s something remarkable.

Transfer Student Highlight: Charleston Burr

Charleston Burr was a transfer student in our Construction Management program and an Andrew Eker Scholarship Scholar. Originally from Kent, Washington, he transferred to UW in 2020, from Green River College in Auburn. Charleston graduated in 2021 and is now a Project Engineer at Hensel Phelps, where he is focusing on gaining experience and developing professionally while working on a diverse range of unique and challenging construction projects. This interview was conducted in 2021 while Charleston was attending UW.

Photo of former CM student Charleston Burr standing in Gould Hall

Degree program: Construction Management
Year: Senior
Hometown: Kent, Washington
Transferred from: Green River College

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I was born in Renton, Washington, and have lived in the south Puget Sound region for my entire life. I started college pretty young but got bored and dropped out when I was 19 or 20 (I’ve never claimed to be the most intelligent person in the room.) Once I got established and came to my senses, I decided to go back to school. I think I made the right choice.
I did my prerequisites at Green River College in Auburn because it was close to home and an opportunity to save some money during my first two years of college. I had the chance to enroll at UW a year earlier than planned if I had taken 25 credits over a summer, but I decided against that. During my year off, I took up a second job at Green River as a tutor for six courses.

What made you choose the Construction Management major?

There’s a strong argument that fate played a role in my decision; my dad has been in the industry for 40+ years, and I have two siblings who work in the industry as members of the UA Local 32 union. A better argument is that I was working in the industry when I decided to go back to school and didn’t want to throw away the little career capital that I had earned. But really, it is that I like to build things, and I enjoy working alongside the people that find their way into this industry.

What has been your favorite part of the department so far?

My favorite thing about the department is the close ties with the local construction industry. The department does an excellent job involving affiliate instructors active in the industry, each offering a unique perspective based on their experience. There are also many learning opportunities out of the classroom, and industry professionals are always willing to help so long as we put ourselves out there.

What’s been the hardest part about transferring or the hardest part of this program?

In my experience, UW does an excellent job getting transfer students on our feet. The hardest part about the department was adjusting to the course load. I grew accustomed to taking no more than three classes at a time, so six courses in addition to work during my first quarter felt like overkill. It can be overwhelming at first, but it’s not so bad once you get used to it.

What experiences have been the most impactful for you outside of the classroom?

My favorite part by far has been the ASC Student Competitions. These competitions are held annually in Reno, Nevada, and allow schools from all over the country to compete in a wide range of categories (commercial, design-build, heavy civil, etc.) Teams are typically limited to six members, and most competitions require that a team spend 16 consecutive hours developing a proposal on a project recently completed by the problem sponsor. As a senior, my team submitted a proposal to Hensel Phelps on a $220M Operations and Maintenance Facility in Bellevue, WA for Sound Transit. I nearly dropped out of the team during my junior year, and I’m thankful for those who convinced me to stay on board. I like the team aspect, and I see these competitions as a low-risk opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge to industry professionals.

What would you say your dream job is?

I actually don’t spend a ton of time thinking about this. I try to focus on doing the best I can do today, and I think that most of the career opportunities available to me can be a “dream job” if I approach them with the right mindset. That said, I like variety, leading teams, and a good challenge. Something that features these attributes would probably be ideal.

Do you have any advice for transfer students?

Start early by working hard at school before you transfer into UW; the adjustment period will be much easier if you bring a good set of habits with you. Once you’re in, get plugged in early. Your peers already know how to navigate the college, and they’ll give you the resources you need to succeed. Get to know your faculty and work hard so that they get to know you. The college is big and has many resources; make sure you know which ones you need to get through your time here.

Do you have any words of advice for Construction Management students?

Ask questions, and when you run out of questions, find new ones. Seek to understand. Take advantage of the opportunities while you can. Treat every encounter like an opportunity to learn something new. Shoot high, and don’t be afraid of falling short. Accept that you’ll always encounter failure on the road to success. And finally, try to have fun.