Growing up, Brinnon Kubista played a lot of Sims, a popular life simulation video game that allows players to create their own avatars and build their own virtual abodes. She jokes that it was all those hours playing the Sims that got her interested in architecture and building. But joking aside, she’s always felt a genuine sense of excitement when her eyes scan the Twin Cities skyline, taking in all the unique structures and construction underway at any given moment.
When Brinnon entered the U of M as a freshman, she instinctively declared her major as architecture. It wasn’t until her sophomore year that she sensed something was missing from her education--something practical and more hands-on. That something was the real-world subject matter embedded in the Construction Management (CM) major.
After taking just one CM course, learning about the nitty gritty of building codes, Brinnon was hooked. She opted for a dual major, with her second major in construction management, special focus on commercial construction. Brinnon says, “There’s a high degree of fluidity between architecture and construction management. The complementary aspect of these two majors has inspired me to be a project manager with an appreciation for design intent. And Construction Management in particular has given me a new vocabulary and has pointed me in a direction when I didn’t really know what I wanted to do post-graduation.”
We sat down with Brinnon to learn more about her experience in the Construction Management degree program.
What class initially got you hooked on Construction Management?
I remember my sophomore year distinctly. I realized I knew nothing about building codes, so I took the Engineering Graphics/AutoCAD course with Ann Johnson. She’s so great and has a wealth of knowledge. I think having that connection initially to the program and meeting people like Ann pointed me in the direction I ultimately chose. The Introduction to Construction course was excellent, too, because we did a lot of hands-on assignments like site visits and interviewing project managers. I interviewed a project manager from Parsons Electric and it gave me a better understanding of the careers in the industry. You can work for an architectural glass supplier, a skyscraper contractor, or an electrical company. There are so many different doors within the genre of construction.
With evening classes taught by adjunct instructors, the Construction Management program is structured differently than most undergraduate degree programs at the U of M. What do you think of this nontraditional setup?
I really like it. Trying to complete two majors in four years I’ve noticed that it’s easier to find a schedule where classes don’t overlap. I’m also able to use the open time during the day to work or complete an internship. At most, I was working 26 hours a week while being a full-time student. It’s a little much for some people, but I appreciated the flexibility of the classes I was taking. It’s nice to be able to do both school and work simultaneously.
We understand that you’ve had an internship working in civil construction this summer. Tell us about that.
Yes, I was an intern with the Metropolitan Council, in the engineering division of Metro Transit. My title was Construction Services Intern, but externally my position would’ve been “project engineer.” Through the internship I did field reports, worked on transit shut-downs, and did a lot of scheduling. Most of my job involved coordinating between my public entity and our contractors. There was a lot of paperwork behind it, and I’m so glad we talked about that in my classes.
A big project that we just finished up was the C-line project with electric buses. We did a lot of site visits, trying to pour concrete before the frost came last spring. I learned a lot about the processes, and I’ve done quite a few rail projects since, which have included concrete pours, platform refurbishments, and a lot of American Disabilities Act (ADA) projects to make public transportation accessible to all. It’s been such a joy getting to see the finished work.
What makes you excited about construction in the Twin Cities?
The Twin Cities are booming, and it’s not just a local-economy thing. We are an economic hub in the Upper Midwest. Through the Construction Management Student Association I’ve been able to tour job sites in the Twin Cities, see Ryan Company’s offices, and attend events with Mortenson. To see these big industry players build the US Bank stadium or some of these huge projects that spring up out of nowhere in the metro area has been incredible. I mean, look at 35W, for example. It’s just a highway, but over the span of a couple years you have a multi-million dollar project. It’s an exciting time to work in construction.
What’s your dream job?
I’m not sure I have one yet. There are a billion and one opportunities for young people in this industry, especially if you’re willing to travel to where the work takes you, gaining experience along the way.
I know one thing for sure: I’m enraptured by design-build firms. They have an advantage when it comes to workflow because they’re more agile, better able to communicate faster with higher potential for getting projects completed under budget. It’s a great incentive for clients, and it’s less stressful for project managers, too. I could definitely see myself pursuing a career for a design-build firm, working for a company like PCL, Ryan, or Mortenson.
Ultimately, I consider myself to be a fairly practical person. “Creative” is a great word, and I love it. But I also like things that make sense. I really enjoy problem solving. Whatever I end up doing someday, I want to solve problems and put the pieces together. It’s really satisfying, finding an answer and being able to use that answer for direction.
Brinnon Kubista is the first-ever recipient of the Knutson Construction Scholarship. She is also a recipient of the PCL Construction Management Scholarship.