Kenneth Styrlund, adjunct professor for the Construction Management program, ended his 20-year tenure in May

A major point of pride for the Construction Management program is the fact that all the instructors are working professionals. They bring years—often decades—of experience to the classroom and share stories and case studies that fascinate and inspire. A prime example is University of Minnesota alumnus and retiring faculty member Kenneth Styrlund. 

Styrlund’s first years at the University were as a civil engineering undergrad. He followed that up with a graduate degree in the same discipline. That was about 40 years ago, and he has been in the construction industry ever since, first as a structural engineer and then as a project manager and senior executive at JE Dunn Construction. 

Becoming an expert on historic remodeling

Kenneth Styrlund stands against a wood wall, arms crossed, smiling at the camera

“I actually started out on the design side as a structural engineer for about the first six or seven years of my career,” Styrlund recounts. “I did a lot of reinforced concrete buildings and parking ramps, some structural steel buildings, and several multistory buildings. And a lot of historic remodels. I worked with all the masonry and timber buildings because, back then, in the mid-1980s, there were a lot of federal tax credits for renovation and repositioning of historic buildings. So I had a niche. I learned and it was always exciting because you had to assume some things going in, not knowing if your assumptions would turn out to be correct.”

As an example, Styrlund points to a structure in Lowertown Saint Paul that was being repositioned as an apartment building. Before it could be remodeled, they had to demolish part of the building that was sinking. “The old pile foundations had rotted, so a quarter of it was gradually sinking. In that case, the existing conditions weren’t what the architect for the apartment building had assumed. All right, so how do we figure this out?”

After moving over to the construction side of things, he continued working on many different types of construction projects, including historic remodeling projects, such as the Hamm Building in downtown Saint Paul, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Museum of Russian Art. There were also many projects on the University campus: the repositioning of Northrop Auditorium and remodels of Tate and Jones Halls and the Weisman Art Museum, the new Health Science Education Center, and the new Rec Center. The remodel of Pillsbury Hall, the second-most senior building on campus, had to be coordinated with the Minnesota Historical Society.

“That was a couple of years ago that we finished that. We were actually working during COVID,” says Styrlund. “I’ve had a fair amount of experience with older buildings, which are always a fun challenge.”

A four-photo collage of U of M buildins that were remodeled: Pillsbury Hall, the new Rec Center, Tate Hall, and Northrop Auditorium
Clockwise from left: Pillsbury Hall, the Rec Center, Tate Hall, and Northrop Auditorium. Photos courtesy of JE Dunn Construction.

Bringing valuable on-the-job experiences into the classroom

About 20 years into his career, Styrlund was drawn back to the U to share his expertise with students in the Construction Management program. He’s been teaching the Planning and Scheduling course ever since. 

“For twenty years, Ken has been an inspirational figure to legions of students, listening to his stories as he guided them to understand how construction gets done,” says Construction Management Faculty Director Peter Hilger.  “Always a favorite teacher and mentor, he has left a lasting impact and a pair of big steel-toed boots to fill!” 

Ken Styrlund stands with arms crossed beside a yellow "left turn" road sign" pointing at him

Styrlund says he has gotten a kick out of watching students grow and evolve. “I’ve been very fortunate that several of the students who have been in my class have worked and are still working at the company (JE Dunn). So I’ve been able to see them not only as a student but also come up through the ranks and gain experience in the industry. That’s been an unintended consequence of teaching: seeing some really good individuals blossom from student to industry professional.”

Styrlund had already reduced his hours at JE Dunn to part time about a year ago so, after wrapping up his last class session in May, he’ll have lots more time to devote to personal passions. “There are quite a few places I haven't seen in the United States. So my wife and I want to do that. And I’ve been to Europe a couple of times to get various materials for work that would be fun to go back to and spend a little bit more time.” 

Maybe, if he visits Paris, he’ll lend his expertise to the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral!