Sacramento’s downtown is undergoing a major renaissance with more than
$1 billion in construction projects in the works. And integral to the building boom happening there, and throughout the region, are graduates of Sacramento State’s tiny – but mighty – construction management (CM) program.
These alumni are engineers managing such major downtown projects as the Golden 1 Center, which debuted Oct. 27 as the new home of the Sacramento Kings and hosted its first collegiate basketball game Nov. 21 when Sacramento State took on UC Davis; a 16-story hotel/condominium tower at Fifth and J streets; Kaiser Permanente’s facelift of a building along J Street; the restoration of the historic train station on I Street; and the revival of Downtown Plaza, renamed the Downtown Commons, or DoCo.
And they’re managing the Ice Blocks development in midtown and Student Housing II, the residence hall under construction on campus, along with the Barn, a unique events venue recently completed in West Sacramento.
Sac State alumni literally are helping to change the face of the region.
Since 2010, every CM graduate has gone straight from commencement (where they wear ceremonial hard hats) to managing job sites. (Sacramento State/Jayla Lee)
“It is great to see downtown Sacramento coming back to life,” says Adam Leon, a project engineer with Swinerton Builders, the company building the hotel/condo tower. “It’s not just the (tower) but all of the projects around the new arena. Every time I walk by the site, I soak in the magnitude of the project and its impact on the city. And it’s just going to continue to grow.”
Leon graduated from Sacramento State in 2015, but started working as an intern at Swinerton two years earlier while still attending the University. His experience is not uncommon for Sac State’s CM students.
Since 2010, every CM graduate has gone straight from commencement (where they wear ceremonial hard hats with a tassel) to managing job sites. The average starting salary is $65,000 to $70,000. Some also get a signing bonus and a company car.
The 100 percent job-placement rate is a point of pride for Mikael Anderson, professor and chair of the Department of Construction Management.
“I attribute it to their training here and how we market our program,” he says. “It used to be that mostly local employers hired our students. Now we have employers coming from all over, because the reputation we built through regional and national student competitions has brought more attention to our program.
“I’m getting feedback from employers who are saying that our graduates, next to graduates from competing schools, are by far better and more prepared.”
Sacramento State has the good fortune to be located in the city that boasts more general contractors than any other in California, according to Justin Reginato, interim associate vice president for Facilities Management and associate professor of construction management.
“And because of Sac State’s proximity to those contractors, they’ve always pulled interns into their companies,” Reginato says. “Our students are working year-round, while students in CM programs at other universities throughout the state are just getting summer internships.
“While our students are taking classes, they also go out to projects and into the home office, and they can see in practice what they’re learning in the classroom. Our students become productive very quickly, and they come out way more seasoned than graduates from other schools.”
Sac State’s Department of Construction Management is relatively small, with just 256 declared majors for the 2016-17 academic year. (By comparison, the University’s criminal justice program – the second-largest in the country – has more than 1,600 students.) Approximately 10 percent of CM students are female.
Sacramento State has one of the oldest construction management programs in California. In 2012, when the program turned 40, the University elevated it to a full-fledged academic department within the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
CM has just four full-time faculty, all with extensive experience in the construction industry. Anderson and Reginato continue to work in the field during the summer when they aren’t teaching, and Gareth Figgess (along with Anderson) was the faculty advisor/foreman of Sac State’s student-built “smart” home for the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon 2015.
The program is supported by the Sacramento Construction Management Education Foundation (SCMEF), a nonprofit advisory board made up of area leaders in the building, heavy highway, civil, and specialty contractor industries. Seventeen board members teach part-time at Sac State, and industry professionals and CM alumni, along with faculty, serve as coaches for the student competition teams.
“I often am asked by entry-level CM students how much I knew about construction before starting the program,” says Alyssa Zayas, a 2014 graduate and senior project engineer with Swinerton Builders. (Enjoy our Made at Sac State profile and video on Zayas.) “I assure them that they will be more than prepared for their career by the time they graduate.
“That’s the beauty of this program,” she says. “The combination of curriculum, faculty, industry involvement, and extracurricular activities offers the perfect storm of opportunity and challenge that sets up students for success. If they are willing to work for it.” – Dixie Reid
CM graduate and Swinerton project engineer Alyssa Zayas shows students around the Downtown Commons project. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)
“Sac State continues to supply the construction industry with students who are ready to hit the job site and be positive contributors to our companies and, more importantly, our region. They are helping change the face of our surroundings.” – Ron Brown, president/CEO of Brown Construction Inc., a 1986 graduate of Sac State’s CM program