We are excited to continue our Alumni Spotlight Series, where we highlight Leadership Academy alumni, and learn more about the great things they are up post-graduation! This month, we are featuring Justin Kwong, who graduated from OSU in 2019 in civil engineering, and is now a project engineer at Hoffman Construction Company in Portland. While at OSU, Justin was involved in many areas of engineering: as a COE student ambassador, the Global Formula Racing Team, and various civil engineering societies. He also had a specialized role as Orientation Chair of the Leadership Academy, where he was responsible for orienting new students about the program. We caught up with Justin recently, who shared about his experiences post-graduation, advice he has for engineering students, and how the Leadership Academy impacted him!
How did you first get involved with the Leadership Academy?
"I first got involved through an email chain, when I was applying to become a College of Engineering ambassador. Throughout meeting new people on campus and getting a chance to speak with students in the program, I was able to get involved in the program and on the Orientation board for a while. Through that I got to meet new people, and that’s kind of how I kind of started my journey of being involved in the program."
What advice would you give to students in the Leadership Academy, or who are new to it?
"One of the biggest piece of advice for students that I want to give, is that it’s okay to not know what you’re doing, it’s okay to be nervous, it’s okay to not understand a situation, and it’s also okay to be passionate and be willing to ask the right kind of questions. If something is unknown, if you have the feeling that you need more assistance, the worst thing you can do is just shrug it off and not address it. Addressing an issue before it gets out of hand, it shows people that you are willing to ask the right questions. My main advice for students is be willing to admit what you don’t know, and be willing to go out of your way to do the right thing."
"Another big piece of advice for those in engineering is that being simple is much more than being complex. People are busy and don’t have much time to get through your emails, so it’s much better to be direct about a situation. No need to elaborate if it does not provide critical detail. Just get to the point, and people will respect that."
In what way have you been able to incorporate some lessons from the Leadership Academy into your own work?
"The main thing that Leadership Academy did for me was help boost my confidence in public speaking, but also teach me how to be very professional. Every week I have owner and contractor meetings, and we need to be able to fit with the architects, with the engineering team, with OHSU staff, with doctors, with people who are working directly in the facility. We need to make sure we’re on top of what we’re doing, and we need to make sure that we are presenting them with the right work and meeting the schedules and timelines. In those meetings, all of that skill and organization really came from my involvement with the Leadership Academy. I think the program is really strong for helping students understand what real life is like, but also at the same time, developing an open mind for when you go into these scenarios, you do feel comfortable and you can talk to these people."
What were some of your favorite parts of the program? What did you enjoy?
"I found that in particular, some of those larger events were the most encapsulating part of Leadership Academy for me. The amount of people and staff and alumni and industry that were at those events (like Summit and Suit Camp), really gave us good exposure to people who were in the workforce. I definitely thought that some of the best parts of the program were the industry connections that were available, the soft-skill development that occurs when you get the chance to speak with other students and staff. The Summit was really cool, the Suit camp was really great, and for the students who do get to go on the Seattle industry trek, that is something that is really eye-opening for a lot of people."
How do you think the Leadership Academy impacted you?
"I think the one thing the program did for me, was that it gave me a chance to go through the motions of messing up and fixing those different hiccups. When you first start and get to know new people who are in industry, you don’t really know how to walk the walk and talk the talk. I definitely got a chance to mess up plenty of times in interviews, and get a chance to speak with people who could give me advice. I feel like the Leadership Academy made me a strong public speaker, it gave me more confidence. It also gave me the chance to meet people who I would have probably never crossed paths with, if I hadn’t become part of the program."
"Some of the skills I got from the Leadership Academy helped me to interact with people at Hoffman. It was getting the chance to meet people and then having the confidence and ability to do well in speaking with them."
Could you describe your title and the work you do at Hoffman?
"I work as a project engineer at Hoffman Construction, currently working on an OHSU project. I got my job, besides the interviewing, mainly through word of mouth. The first time I ever saw a construction site was through a project manager who works here now. He gave my first job walk-through when I was in high school, kind of showed me what a project engineer does and some logistics. Who knew that five years down the road, I would actually be getting hired on as a project engineer there?"
"As for the work we do, a lot of that is construction which is fixing and coordination. So making sure that all the different people who work under us have what they need, ensuring that everyone always the knowledge and ability to complete work, or if any questions are asked, that the architects or engineer or any of the contractors who are working with us have all that information on site at the required time and balancing all of that with scheduling and ensuring the owner gets the product that they asked for. So, it’s mainly about being the spider in the middle of a web and pulling all the strings with the right tension."
As you’ve started working, what have been some opportunities and challenges for you in your role?
"That’s a fantastic question. I think some opportunities is that when you’re working for a large company that contains a lot of overhead, you get pushed along through this process where you need to be trained up and ready and whatever comes your way, you have to solve it. So some great opportunities for me is that I’ve undergone very rigorous training program so far, and can look at anything from working 10-11 hours a day to working weekends. I’m actually set to run my first project sometime next spring, and not a lot of people in my division get a chance to do that, so I’m really excited for what’s to come."
"And that leads into the challenges as well. My knowledge of these projects is so minimal. If you look at a project engineer and them getting hired directly out of college, some of the people I’m working with, some of these foremen, have been doing their craft for over 20-25 years. I think some of the challenges that I have to face is making sure that I don’t speak to things that I don’t know about, ensure that I listen to the people who are actually building the project, and also making sure that if I don’t know about something, that I have the ability to ask about it. A lot of the time, people don’t ask the right questions, and information gets lost in translation. These are some of the things that I am facing, and it’s a big learning curve for me, so I have to be humble."
Any last thoughts you would like to share?
"College is all about finding out who you are, but besides all the work, I hope that students understand that is okay to have a life outside school. It’s okay to have fun, and it’s those small moments where you find yourself to be passionate about something and explore it. Go do things and have fun, do your best, and pursue your dreams!"
Justin Kwong is a project engineer with Hoffman Construction Company in Portland. Click here to learn more about Hoffman.
Photo courtesy of Justin Kwong