Project manager at Turner Construction pursues online Master of Science in Construction Management at FIU
by Caylin Jimenez
Elton Zachary Garrett, but I go by Zach.
Where do you live?
I currently live in Upstate NY.
Master of Science in Construction Management through the online program
Where are you working? Title?
I am a project manager for Turner Construction where I am currently managing a couple hundred million dollars’ worth of projects.
Why did you decide to go back to school for your master’s degree?
I decided to go back to school for my masters for multiple reasons. First, because I would eventually like to teach in the construction management field at a university. Second, because I wanted to further hone my skills as I advance in the industry, and lastly, because I enjoy learning new things and wanted to challenge myself.
Why FIU’s Moss Department of Construction Management?
Being a husband, father of two young children, and a full-time project manager, I needed a program that would fit my busy schedule. I did extensive research regarding the available colleges and universities offering the type of degree I was interested in. I needed a university that was in my area or offered fully online programs and FIU’s Moss department of CM checked every box. If I was going to take my time and resources to go back to school, it needed to be one of the best.
Regarding continuing your education, what was your greatest fear and what were you looking forward to most?
My greatest fears regarding continuing my education were not having the time to fit it into my schedule and going into debt. The thing I am looking forward to the most is completing a goal that I have had for many years and just pushed off. I have realized that although there are many sacrifices in going back to school, they are manageable, and well worth it if they help me accomplish my long-term goals.
What has surprised you the most in the program? Is there anything interesting you have learned that you want to share?
The thing that surprised me the most is how normal online classes could feel. I started the program during the pandemic. I was already working remote and having meetings through zoom so having classes through zoom felt normal. It is interesting how many people have attended FIU. I had never heard of the school prior to researching for my master’s degree, but now that I tell people I attend FIU I have met multiple people here in NY that are alumni.
What has been your favorite class so far?
My favorite class to date would either be Topics in International Construction (BCN 5774) or Sustainable Construction (BCN 5585). In BCN 5774, I really enjoyed learning about construction elsewhere in the world; I am familiar with the industry domestically, but this class combined my love for learning about other countries with my knowledge of the industry. In BCN 5585, I enjoyed and appreciated the fact that I left the class with my LEED certification.
What advice do you have for those looking for a job or thinking about getting their master’s degree in CM?
My advice for those in school and looking for a job is to seek out an internship. Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door at a company and show the value that you can add to the organization. Internships also allow you to see if that organization’s values, goals, and culture align with yours. The other piece of advice is to be yourself. As an entry level employee no one expects you to know everything. Just be yourself, show that you are teachable and can communicate. I look for the soft skills in a potential employee because they are much harder to teach.
What does a day on the job look like?
One of the things I enjoy about my job is that it is always changing. No two days look the same. I currently manage three different projects across 17 different buildings, so I spend a lot of time walking each project. Generally, I start my day between 7am and 8am. I spend much of my day either on the phone or in meetings. I coordinate between the Owner, Architects/Engineers, and trade partners as well as my team of superintendents and engineers. I typically wrap up my workday between 5pm and 6pm.
How does your coursework connect back to your job?
Having been with Turner for almost 13 years and having held many positions within the company, I am very well rounded within the industry. I have taken a diverse course load here at FIU and I feel as though each class has connected almost perfectly back to my experience within the industry. In many cases, I had a general knowledge of the course topic going in, but the coursework in each case deepened my understanding and gave me the ability to apply the knowledge more strategically.
How do you balance your time between work and school? How does the program allow for a healthy balance?
The key to a good work / school / life balance is to be organized and planned. This program allows for flexibility, which allows for me to plan when I will do my school around my work and life schedule. I set aside one day per week to take the entire evening after dinner and focus on school. Two to three times per week I take an hour or so after putting my girls to bed and spending time with my wife to work on school. Lastly, depending on that week’s school workload, I will get up early on Saturday and finish anything I have remaining for the week. Working full-time, I obviously can’t attend school during the day, and having classes right after work would take away precious time with my family, this program allows me to work it into my schedule.
What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is being able to see the impact our projects make on people once they are complete and knowing that I was an integral part to it coming to life. For example, being able to walk through a Science and Engineering project at a college I built and seeing and hearing the excitement on the students faces and knowing that those researchers are doing work that could save lives. Or driving by a low-income housing facility that took people off the street and is changing the lives of families forever.
Favorite project you have worked on?
It is hard to pick just one favorite project. Each one has its challenges, but also its amazing memories. If I had to choose one, it would probably be the Union College Science and Engineering Complex, which is a $100MM lab and classroom facility in upstate NY. The project consisted of both new construction and selective demo/renovation of multiple existing buildings, all in the center of an active campus. This project was probably one of the most complex projects I will ever build. It is one of my favorites because of the amount I was challenged and how much I learned.
Turner Construction will be at the Moss Department of Construction Management’s Fall 2021 Career Expo on Monday, October 18th. Learn more about the Fall 2021 Career Expo here.
Learn more about the fully Online Master of Science in Construction Management here.