< Back to Articles
Relentless Ally: Andrea Fagerstrom
October 26, 2015
Your first job out of college is always destined to be a memorable one – in a good way or bad way. For Andrea Fagerstrom, project engineer - her first job is particularly memorable, as it just so happens to be the first of its kind in the United States. That is, the $221.5 million Las Colinas Detention and Re-entry Facility in Santee, California.
It’s her first project but Andrea is wise enough to know that this may be her only opportunity to work on a facility of this nature. “The environment and structure that is being created here is very unique compared to other detention facilities. This really is a guinea pig project that could lead to massive reform. It’s a huge shift so it will probably take some time for other counties to adopt this model,” commented Andrea.
The passion and excitement that Andrea feels for this project is slightly at odds with the path that led her here. Growing up in Seattle, Andrea never imagined she would be spending her days building a prison facility - or building any facility, for that matter.
Andrea had always thought she had her heart set on interior design, but later changed her mind switching her focus to a career in real estate - only to watch the market tank around her, forcing her to go back to the drawing board.
As is often the case, her mother had some ideas about what she should be pursuing and encouraged her to look into construction and engineering - an idea that Andrea instantly dismissed as “crazy.”
At her mother’s insistence, she arranged for some informational interviews with some female project managers to understand what they do. Almost immediately thereafter, she had enrolled in San Diego State University to pursue a degree in Construction Engineering and Management.
Andrea wasn’t the only one to question a career in construction. Her friends also thought her career path was “crazy” and it was enough to make Andrea second guess her decision. Halfway through her studies she caved and switched to a course in fashion only to realize that construction was the right fit for her, after all.
By facing up to that conclusion she also had to admit to another truth that almost all of us have faced at some point: “Mom knew best on this one, so that’s the last time I listen to my friends.”
Once she was back on track in her construction management studies, Andrea dove headfirst into starting seeking out an internship with Clark and competing as captain of SD State’s preconstruction team at the annual Associated Schools of Construction competition in Reno.
While competing in Reno (her team won third place) she met BBC teammate Anton Greenville, (senior vice president in San Diego) who quickly persuaded her to make the switch and start up an internship at Balfour Beatty Construction: “It just seemed like it [Balfour Beatty Construction] was a more close-knit family and that’s what I was looking for.”
For Andrea, it was the right move to make. With her college days now behind her, Andrea is a fulltime project engineer who is now in charge of around 75% of the scope for phase two of the Las Colinas project. Like the project itself, this is an usual model and she credits John Parker, vice president for setting up the project this way. “I get to manage the entire process of a complete scope of work. Everything from pre-construction meetings, billings, submittals, RFI’s, costs and close-out.
Obviously this is great work experience and exposure for a young project engineer, but it’s also a reliable way to keep focused on the project cost. “Project engineers are usually only in charge of RFI’s for the entire project and it is difficult to see the overall impact on project costs. The way John has set up this project and my responsibilities, when I’m thinking about RFIs, I’m thinking about their impact on the entire project cost and working to mitigate any issues well ahead of time.”
Andrea has also become a very vocal advocate for Zero Harm and she’s not afraid to speak up when it comes to safety on her jobsite - or anyone else’s, for that matter. Like the time she walked by a competitor’s site and saw two guys working on the fourth floor wearing shorts and no hard hats: “I went over to tell them that this was unsafe and they told me not to worry, their boss had approved.” Most people would reason that they had tried to help and would leave it at that, but Andrea made it a point to call the company and report her concerns for these workers: “I don’t want to see anyone getting hurt.”
The ability to speak up is especially important to Andrea, not just as a young female in a male-dominated industry, but also as a teammate who is keen to learn as much as possible. “In the beginning, I wasn’t so sure of myself but my team has shown me that you have to speak up, ask questions and make observations. It’s the only way we can learn as a team and as individuals. Even if you make the wrong observation, it’ll start a discussion and there’ll be something for you to learn.”
The Las Colinas project is going to be a tough act to follow, but with the team on schedule for full completion of the project in January 2016, Andrea is going to have to start thinking about where she’s going next.
She hasn’t got that figured out just yet but based on her journey so far, she knows that wherever she ends up, she will be right where she belongs.
Best of luck, Andrea - please send our regards to your Mom for us!