Update: Student Profile: Matt Novotny

Matt Novotny, CM ‘21, is an alumnus from the Department of Construction Management who now works full-time as an Engineer at Clark Construction Group. He is currently working on a distribution and fulfillment center development project in Arlington, Washington. As an alumnus, Matt returned to the college several times to assist other Construction Management students with their capstone projects. Matt remarks that he maintains many of the connections he made in the Construction Management program through occasional collaboration on projects, in training classes, and outside of work. We interviewed Matt while he was still attending UW to gain insight on his experience as a transfer student.

 

white male in neon yellow vest and hard hatDegree program: Construction Management

Year: Senior

Hometown: Nova Paka, Czech Republic 

Transferred from: North Seattle College

 

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I’m originally from the Czech Republic. I’ve been in the United States for the past eight years. I started as a High School exchange student and decided I wanted to pursue my education in the U.S. I took the GED test because I couldn’t graduate from high school at that time, then went to Everett Community College as an International Student. During my work there, I got my green card status. My wife and I moved into Seattle to be closer to higher education, as my end goal was to attend the University of Washington. 

Before transferring, I did my prerequisites at Seattle Central College and North Seattle College. There was a quarter where I was commuting between both colleges because they didn’t offer all the classes I needed at one. I was accepted into the University of Washington last year.

 

What made you choose the Construction Management major? 

I started out wanting to be an architect. I looked at architecture programs all over the country but realized it wasn’t hands-on enough for me. I like being able to meet people in person and see a physical site, so that’s what led me towards construction management. An advisor pointed out to me that UW offered Construction Management and after looking at the website, I knew that’s where I wanted to go. I liked the idea of having a construction project, seeing it on paper and in 3D visualizations, and then getting to walk through the site.

 

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

The connection to the real industry of construction management. We had a lot of guest lecturers who are working in the industry, presenting to us from their offices even, and I think that’s the best thing. Once you get out of school it won’t be as much of a surprise to you because you already know what to expect. It’s not only academic, you gain real-life skills. Some of the instructors who are full-time with the University have their own construction firms or decades of construction expertise, so their perspectives and experiences are pretty important.

 

What’s something that surprised you about transferring to UW? 

Transferring to UW definitely took off at a quick running start. It wasn’t just a slow transfer where you have time to see how the school works. It was going in full time. From my perspective as a transfer student, it did feel as if I was slightly behind everybody else. Everybody knew where everything was, how everything operates. I was struggling to register because each school uses a different system and up to that point, I had been to three different schools. So it was a really hard start. I understand why transfer students might consider it very difficult. 

 

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

The course load is one part, but I think the hardest part about transferring is the different systems. Canvas was the only thing that was the same as my previous college. Registering for classes and even the size of campuses are different. The University is gigantic and my first quarter I had 10 minutes between classes with a little bit less than a mile to go — that turned out to be a bit of a challenge.


What experiences have been the most impactful for you outside of the classroom? Outside of the classroom, it’s the connection to the real industry, without a doubt. It’s great when you have a lecturer in a classroom that you’re then able to connect with at happy hour. I was able to get my internship because I went on a site visit and made a connection with them because I had recognized them as a guest lecturer. My internship is with the firm that is doing the Washington State Convention Center expansion project, which is providing great experience.


What would you say your dream job is? 

One day I want to find myself in a leadership role on a large project or at a large company. Management is natural to me, so that’s the direction I want to go. In the long term, I’m hoping to get my MBA hopefully from the University of Washington and that might be able to take me a little bit further.

 

Since I got my green card, I’ve been working throughout school. I started as a construction laborer — there were days where I spent hours in the crawl space of a house. I know that when I get a job after graduating, I will be starting as a project engineer or somewhere along those lines. But, I think that and my previous experience allows me to have a better understanding of what the job takes. So, once I get into a management position I can understand where my employees are coming from.

 

Do you have any advice for transfer students? 

I would say to take interest in things. School can be really scary so don’t let it intimidate you. Try new things, take a shot at something. It can be challenging and it can seem like everyone knows what they are doing, but just try.

 

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

I would say push yourself into the industry and take chances. Seattle is one of the best places for construction right now. There are a lot of opportunities, so find a place where you fit in.

Women in Construction: Darlene Septelka

In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked Teaching Assistant Professor, Darlene Septelka, to share her experience as a woman with 50 years of experience in the construction field.

Growing up, Darlene didn’t experience the gendering of toys. Her parents made no distinction between playing with trucks, blocks or Barbies.  “I never felt like ‘girls don’t do that,’ or that I should be playing with dolls, or that there was a role I needed to portray.”  One day her dad dumped a pile of sand in the backyard, and she spent hours building cities in it.

When Darlene was in junior high, a vocational school opened up in her district. Her parents felt that graduating with a practical skill was important, so she was one of the few women who enrolled. Darlene majored in electronics as one of just five girls in her graduating class. She then went on to technical college where she switched from electronics to civil engineering, and earned her associate’s degree.

“I always liked seeing how things were built.”

Being in the minority as a woman at her vocational school prepared her for a career in a male-dominated field.

Navigating a career in construction as a young woman

After graduating in 1972, Darlene worked as a draftsman in an apprentice program for a large architectural engineering firm in Boston. As the only woman in the program, she started to notice some of the issues in the industry that women would face. She remembers having to sit in the front of the open-floor office near the supervisor, because management thought she would be “a distraction.” Darlene didn’t want to stay at the drawing table, though – she wanted to get out in the field, and she wasn’t going to let the sexism she faced stop her.  “I was told ‘there’s no role for you, other than if you want to be a secretary’.” When there were layoffs, a coworker said to her, “why aren’t you home having a baby, so another guy can have this job?”

A black and white photo of Darlene sitting at a drafting table
Darlene as a draftsman 50 years ago

For Darlene to get the field experience she wanted, she left Boston for Charlotte, North Carolina to work on a construction site. Darlene recalls being out doing an investigation on a nuclear power plant. “It was a huge construction site, and I remember going downstairs into a deep well in the basement where the mechanical equipment was. My responsibility was pipe support and ensuring the design would work. If it couldn’t, I had to design on the spot, head back up to the office, do a quick sketch, and send it to a California office who could run the calculation on it. While I was in the basement, some workers flushed a bunch of water down there and laughed.”

The lack of diversity and the defined gender roles in her first field experience led Darlene out of the south and back to New England. As she moved into leadership, she saw more issues emerge as a woman in that role.

Paving a path to the top

When it was time for the next opportunity, Darlene applied for a job at a nuclear power plant in Aberdeen, Washington.  She was flown to New York for the interview. During the interview process, she found it unfair that she was tested on whether she could read drawings. She felt she had to go “the extra mile” to get hired, compared to male applicants. “When I was hired, the idea was that someone else was going to move up and I would take their position.  But after I arrived, they had put another person with less supervisory experience in the role. I had to speak up and say ‘wait a minute, I traveled thousands of miles out here, based on a promise.’ I challenged them and I got the position.”

Darlene standing on a raised walkway above a construction site
Darlene on a construction site in China

Even if it meant braving the freezing cold on the tide flats of New Hampshire doing welding inspections, Darlene always found a way to get the job done. And it earned her a promotion.

“You wanted to prove yourself and that you could do your work, so I ignored [the pushback] and did my job.”

There was a moment in Darlene’s career when she had to decide whether she had a future in this industry.

Thanks to the support of the late Steve Goldblatt, Darlene earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington. She would spend the next 12 years working at Boeing, overseeing and managing construction projects. She remained connected to UW and later returned to get her Masters degree in Construction Management, becoming the first-ever graduate of the program.

She went on to become an Associate Professor at Washington State University, and taught for several years before returning to industry.  She got a job working for King County on a water treatment plant project – and it was the first time her own manager was a woman.

Before retiring, she spent three years in China working on large projects as a construction director. “There are a lot of women working in the construction field, but to have a woman in a leadership position was atypical there,” she recalls.

Coming back to the classroom years later, Darlene was pleasantly surprised to see the increase in diversity in the department and field.  “I remember teaching at WSU and not having one woman in my class.”

The next generation

She recognizes that it will take a while for the increased entry-level diversity to reach the executive level, but believes that the industry is changing.

She hopes that women considering Construction Management or currently studying it see the change they’re trying to make. “I graduated in ‘72, so this is the 50 year anniversary of me being in construction. When I was coming up in the field, I had to rely on my own resilience, working harder to prove myself. But it shouldn’t be like that.”

“If you have the passion, hold your head up high and do the best job you can do. Find your safe space, find your community to help you work through the challenges.”

Women in hard hats and construction jackets
Darlene thanking the women workers for their hard work with a small gift on International Women’s Day

 

Bid Day: a real life simulation

Bid Day is a half-day exercise that takes place at the end of the Fall Quarter of a student’s senior year. It’s a chance for them to put into practice the skills learned to effectively and accurately review subcontractor and supplier bids. They are charged with summarizing them into the “low bid” and submitting to the instructor “on time” to simulate an actual real-life bid day experience.  Their bids are compared to the “right answer” and represent 10% of their quarter grade.

Larry Bjork standing in front of a room full of students sitting at a long table

We asked Larry Bjork, one of the Bid Day coordinators who’s been helping for the past 10 years, why it’s important students get this experience.

“After students graduate, they will begin their careers with general contractors.  One of the common activities of a general contractor is to competitively bid projects. So, students need to learn at a very basic level the principals behind the evaluation of bids and the proper way to recap them in an organized manner, all the while being under pressure to turn in their bid on time.” – Larry Bjork, Construction Management Affiliate Instructor

The exercise heats up towards the end of the day as time winds down.

“The phone bids that come in over the last hour of the exercise is my favorite part of the day,” says Larry. “We intentionally give them difficult situations to deal with to see if they can keep their cool and to see how they respond. It’s the best and most fun part for everyone and that hour is the stuff of legend now. We have a lot of fun with it.”

Larry pretends to talk on a phone and looks at the student sitting at the table across from him

Over the years the projects have gotten more complicated, the bids have gotten more complicated, and the number of bids has increased – a necessary step to ensure it remains current and reflects the reality of working in the industry.

 

View photos from Bid Day 2021

The backs of 4 students sitting around a computerStudents huddled around a computerStudents sitting in a room at a long tableStudents talk to each other, one standing and two sitting at computersLarry Bjork standing in front of a room full of students sitting at a long tableLarry Bjork looking over top a students computer with a class full of studentsStudents sit around a tableStudents sit and stand around a tableTwo students stand over papers laid out on a table

Construction Management Students Competed in the 2021 DBIA National Design-Build Student Competition

This year a UW student team competed in the 2021 DBIA Design-Build Student Competition. The following UW students competed at a national level in this competition.
  • Shreyas Bhore, Team Captain – MS in Construction Management
  • Mariele Alarilla, BS in CM and Architecture Dual Degree
  • Geng Chen, BS in CM and Architecture Dual Degree
  • Takanobu Suzuki, BS in CM and Architecture Dual Degree
  • Abdirizak Abdi, BS in CM and Architecture Dual Degree
Our UW Team organized over the summer and on September 3rd DBIA Issued the RFQ.  Sixteen national teams competed during the RFQ phase. Students had 2 weeks to develop their qualification proposals before our UW classes started.
Our UW Team went on to the RFP phase and represented our DBIA Northwest Region. The RFP was issued the first week of class, so our students were juggling the return to in-person classes at the same time they were developing their design-build proposal.  Students had two weeks to submit their proposals that addressed design, construction, schedule, costs, and team management for a New Student Health Services Center on the Washington & Lee University Campus in Lexington, VA. The winning school was officially announced at the DBIA National Conference in Denver on November 3rd. Unfortunately, we did not place but our students developed a comprehensive design-build proposal that we all can be proud of.
The DBIA Northwest Region provided a travel grant for our Student Team to travel to the DBIA National Conference and participate in student events at the conference that included a career mixer with Industry, with three of our team members attending. It was a great educational opportunity for our students, and they met many industry contacts for future employment. I was very proud of our students.
Students sitting at a table together
Students debriefing their proposal with one of the judges
Students and coach standing together smiling at camera
UW coach and students attending the DBIA NW Regional Chapters mixer.
Darlene was selected to present with Rong He, CEO Century 3, Shanghai, on “Designing and Building in China” at the conference. So, UW also had a presence in the professional presentation track