Graduating senior Cami Vargo says the Construction Management program’s dedication to student success helped her graduate within four years with two degrees
Cami Vargo was already two years into an architecture degree at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2020 when she decided to go for a double major by adding the Construction Management (CM) bachelor’s degree to her course load. She had given herself a firm four-year deadline to get through college, so she was pleasantly surprised when she learned she could finish both degrees within her time frame.
“I knew, at the very least, I was going to go for the CM minor. Then, I was talking with Megan [Seltz, the program’s academic advisor] and she gave me the rundown for how I could get the major and still graduate within four years,” recounts Vargo, who decided on the commercial construction track and will graduate in May 2022. “I primarily added it on because I had started to enjoy my construction management classes as much as my architecture classes. Not knowing what I wanted to do after graduation, or who I would work for, I knew the two degrees would give me more options.”
Vargo isn’t wondering about work anymore. After completing an internship as a project engineer with Weis Builders, she accepted a full-time job as assistant superintendent, starting in the company’s Atlanta office after graduation. Here, she reveals how she successfully navigated two vigorous degree programs, the importance of relationships, who inspires her, and what advice she has for aspiring construction management professionals.
Double major seems like a heavy course load. How did you manage it?
To be blunt, it is heavy at times. Truthfully, it took me my first three years of college to figure out balance when it came to schoolwork, life, friends, family, and even sleep. I have always been a highly active individual even before college, so stretching myself thin had been something I was used to and honestly enjoyed, because it gave me a challenge to work towards. I could sit here and explain how time management is key to keeping up with the course load, but I'd be lying if I say I didn't procrastinate as a student myself. That's normal. Especially once you begin to prioritize yourself and your mental health while completing your education.
I found intentionally forcing myself to step away from schoolwork at times made me more productive and motivated once I went back to it. This could be going on a walk, working out, getting food, taking a drive, listening to music—just doing something to get my mind off of it. It may seem like you’re taking time away from your coursework, but it’s important to remember that burnout is a real thing. Allow yourself time to reset.
You were the recipient of several scholarships: the Construction and Facilities Management Scholarship, the Knutson Construction Scholarship, the Mary Schweiger McNellis Scholarship (College of Design), as well as a 2021 Construction Management Hard Hat Scholar. How did those come about?
Yes! I didn’t realize there were so many opportunities for scholarships but I’m so grateful. I learned about them via emails sent out by the program and applied for them. It’s been really nice and has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders. I’ve always been a pretty driven student in the sense that, if I’m going to do something, I’m going to try to the best of my ability and I kept my grades up. So it was really cool to have that recognized by receiving those scholarships.
What did you learn in the Construction Management program that helped you most in your internship?
I didn’t know how much I was going to be able to use my education, but I used it a lot more than I thought, primarily the relationship-building part. As a project engineer, it was my job to maintain strong relationships throughout the buyout process, while also assisting the project manager with day-to-day activities. I gained really strong personal relationships with subcontractors through constant communication via email, phone, or Microsoft Team calls. Kinda fun, when you notice you're building respect with these people as well, like when they actually answered my phone calls and emails in a timely manner. The importance of relationships was especially stressed in the capstone course and also Spec ’n’ Tech [Specifications and Technical Writing for Construction Professionals], where we also got a lot of public speaking experience, which was fun and helped us build up our confidence.
Your father is also in the construction business. How has that influenced you?
Yeah, my dad worked for a construction company straight out of college for about 25 years. About four years ago, he decided to create his own business, which was really inspiring. I’ve tossed out the idea of, like, if I get more experience and learn from other people, maybe I’ll have the possibility to work with him, even if it’s a part-time, family job that we do.
He’s given me that stepping stone, that platform to start on, which has been really, really fun. It’s cool seeing his drive, seeing that he’s decided to do his own thing. It gives me hope for what I could possibly do for myself, too.
What advice would you give to students interested in going into construction management?
If you aren't 100% set on the path itself, just take a few courses to try it out. I started only as a minor in construction management because I was unsure I could even complete both, and I found myself liking the coursework more and more, eventually taking the step to declare it as another major.
One of the biggest things that drew me to the U’s Construction Management program was the people. At such a large school like the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, it is really nice to have a smaller cohort of students that you get to know pretty well throughout the courses. The program sets you up to have a strong networking base when you leave as well as while you're taking the coursework. The faculty and staff in the program want you to succeed going into the "real world" and it shows.