Q&A with Kelly O’Neal-Young ’06
O’Neal-Young graduated from the McWhorter School of Building Science in 2006.
After holding several positions in the construction industry, including 13 years with Holder Construction, she accepted a job last year as a Project Manager with Auburn University Facilities. She oversees various projects on campus, including the current Upper Quad renovations, Village Residence Hall renovation and mobile credentialing upgrades throughout campus. This summer she will be working on the demolition of the Hill Dorms and construction of a new dorm. Recently, Kelly took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions.
What is something you learned in BSCI that has been relevant to your work every day?
The most important thing I learned from BSCI is the importance of building relationships. BSCI taught us that engaging with those who have more experience helps you grow as a person and opens you up to building your own expertise. During my career, I used to go outside and talk to the subcontractors and superintendents about their trades. I wanted to understand the process for my growth.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career?
Being a female in the industry has been a challenge. When I graduated in 2006, women were just starting to grow their interest in the construction industry. It was always there, but we started to acknowledge more women graduating with a building science degree and succeeding.
What’s the biggest change on campus since you were a student?
There are more buildings now! There are definitely more walking spaces for students, and I like the transformation around the Haley Center and how everything is being centralized there on campus. But Auburn still has the family feel of when I attended here in 2000.
Who was your favorite professor in BSCI and have you kept in touch?
Anoop Sattineni was my favorite professor. I loved how he was always behind the students and encouraging them to be great. I kept up with him when I returned for interviews and we play golf once a year in with the Atlanta Auburn Building Science Alumni group. I have also been able to keep up with my mentor, Drew Yantis. My BSCI professors showed us how much they loved the subject and how much there was to learn, from Killingsworth’s Estimating class to Aderholt and Weiss’ Structures class to B.W. Smith’s MEP class. They were not trying to teach us how to be general contractors. They were teaching us how to understand the trade, the details and components that went into the design.
What is your advice for Auburn students studying building science?
Build relationships by talking to people, not through texts or emails. Pick up the phone and talk. Intern with companies when you can. Reading books provides the basics, but hands-on learning provides a better understanding. Walk with your superintendent and ask questions. Talk to the trades to learn about their means and methods. The trades want to teach us, and we must be open to hearing their lessons. Finally, challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone.
What aspects of your job do you enjoy most?
I really enjoy renovating spaces and giving them a new look. My career is in Interiors and just to watch a space transform into its potential is gratifying. I am currently working with Housing on the Upper Quad Renovation, and the most amazing thing is to have the opportunity to work with the original 1930s construction, the terracotta structure and plaster walls, and then see the dorms get a modern look. The workmanship in the 1930s was amazing. To this day, any time I drive by a space that I renovated I smile. I think about all the hard work that went into transforming a space and how everyone that I meet along the way has shaped me to be the person I am today.
How do you stay up to date on new construction methods and best practices?
I stay in touch with colleagues and read articles about current and future trends on how construction is evolving. LinkedIn has been a great tool in keeping up with new construction methods. The technology has been the biggest change and trying to keep up with it has its own challenges.
What made you want to major in Building Science?
My family grew up in construction, but I didn’t know that until I was in college and not enjoying my original plan of attending classes in the College of Business. I wanted to be outside. My mom noticed how much I loved walking into spaces and admiring the architectural elements, so I took some building science classes and enjoyed every minute. From there I never looked back.
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