As a UVA alum, Susan Williamson Ross (Architecture ’83) admits that she particularly enjoys welcoming new employees at Clark Construction Group who also happen to be recent University of Virginia graduates.
Having been with Clark for decades, the Executive Vice President says that her employer’s longstanding relationship with the University and some of its individual schools has been fruitful, having brought UVA alumni to work at the company. In addition to the School of Architecture, School of Engineering, College of Arts & Sciences, and Darden graduates the company has hired, a more concerted effort in recent years to recruit Commerce students has paid off, as they arrive ready to help the company advance, using their well-rounded skill set in various roles with Clark.
“We believe McIntire helps develop strong leaders with a better understanding of the full scope of how a business runs,” Ross says.
“Given that M.S. in Commerce students have non-business undergraduate degrees, we’re hoping to find students who have the interest and technical knowledge needed for our industry and pair that with a strong foundation in business skills, which students gain through the M.S. in Commerce degree. We wanted to attract more students with that profile and deepen our relationship with the McIntire School to build awareness of Clark within that community,” says Ross.
As a result of that intention, two initiatives were launched by the company: first, the creation of a scholarship award to support a student in the M.S. in Commerce Program, and second, a tuition reimbursement program for employees interested in pursuing the School’s innovative 10-month master’s degree.
In funding a scholarship, Ross says that Clark aims to support student interest in foundational business knowledge before they enter their professional careers. “Our goal is to enable students who have the technical knowledge required in our industry—engineering, architecture, and construction—to develop business knowledge as well.”
The goal of the scholarship is to “provide a deserving student, with interest in our industry, the opportunity to complete the M.S. in Commerce to accelerate their career in the industry and provide a sound foundation in business,” says Ross. While employment at Clark is obviously not a condition of the scholarship award, the company plans to give preference to the scholarship beneficiary if they are interested in interviewing for a position. “We’re thrilled that Meg Lloyd (A&S ’22, M.S. in Commerce ’23) is our first recipient.”
Lloyd, an Economics major who minored in Urban and Environmental Planning, says her undergraduate courses prompted her to think about real estate more seriously. The direction soon emerged as a clear career path. Now, the Lynchburg, VA native is excited to take what she’s learned and deepen her understanding by developing her technical and soft business skills in the M.S. in Commerce’s Business Analytics Track.
Having come from “a big UVA family,” one in which Lloyd’s parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles are proud alumni, she says attending the University for her undergraduate degree was an easy choice. Arriving at UVA loaded up on college credits earned in high school, she had it in mind that finishing early to enroll in a graduate program would be a possibility.
While she hadn’t thought the Commerce School’s programs would necessarily match her interests, that changed after experiencing the internship recruiting cycle during her third year. “I realized I lacked a lot of the business knowledge many employers expect,” she admits. “Through the M.S. in Commerce Program, I’m hoping to pick up on lots of the soft skills taught by McIntire: business acumen, strategic decision making, interview preparation, and more.”
While Lloyd’s interest in real estate has been with her for some time, she confesses that being part of the construction sector hadn’t crossed her mind until recently. “I’d assumed Clark only hired engineers and architects, not business or economics students,” she says, noting that she had seen some of their open positions on the University’s employment portal and assumed they wouldn’t be a proper fit. Yet the scholarship has Lloyd thinking about a possible future in construction, deeply thankful for the support, and optimistic that other students will become more aware about the range of skills needed for positions in construction.
“Even for people coming into the company with a business background, Clark has a variety of positions, ranging from project management to business analytics,” she says. “I hope their strong relationship with McIntire continues and more students are made aware of Clark’s commerce-related roles. The company is full of opportunities, and their generous gift was the perfect way to get my foot in the door of an industry that I otherwise would’ve overlooked.”
Readied for the Roles
Lloyd is joined at McIntire by future Clark employees and former interns Erika Heupel (Engineering ’22, M.S. in Commerce ’23) and Steven Lunsford (A&S ’22, M.S. in Commerce ’23), who are taking advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement program.
Heupel, who earned her undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering, says that, having loved the time she spent at UVA, she was elated to return in order to correct one of her regrets: not taking more business courses.
“I took a one-credit Engineering Economics course and only had a rudimentary knowledge of business and its real-world applications,” says Heupel. “I was drawn to the M.S. in Commerce to have another year in Charlottesville and a great business education,” which, supported by her choice to pursue the Business Analytics track, the Fairfax, VA native expects will improve her leadership, project management, and business strategy abilities.
Lunsford, who majored in Government and minored in Global Sustainability, was also thrilled to return to the area, a 30-minute drive from his hometown of Lyndhurst, VA. But what drew him to McIntire was a combination of its people, its curriculum, and its potential.
“I was really intrigued by the cross-sectional and interdisciplinary nature of the program, being able to take classes with people from a variety of academic backgrounds, all of us with an interest in supplementing our undergraduate education with a critical business lens,” he says. “This, coupled with the pre-experience nature of the program, made it a very attractive avenue to build some foundational business skills to take into the job market.”
The master’s holds a great deal of promise for his future career success, particularly his courses in Marketing and Project Management, which Lunsford calls “absolutely critical” in the role of a business analyst required to do a considerable amount of estimating, budgeting, purchasing, and scheduling. “All of these things fall into the scope of the Project Management courses I am taking, and I am really excited to get into my track-specific courses and begin gaining the substantive skills that I will be putting to use after graduation in my role at Clark.”
For Heupel, the program’s emphasis on teamwork also meshes well with her aspirations of working in construction project management. “Construction is a business that involves multiple stakeholders, disciplines, and technologies. Because of this breadth of collaboration with every project, construction managers wear multiple hats beyond just engineering. Ultimately, I believe I will be a stronger engineer and hope to become a positive example of a dynamic female engineer at Clark.”
Supporting Strong Leaders
Ross believes that students who complete the M.S. in Commerce Program and join Clark as engineers and project managers bring important knowledge that supports the aims of the company’s project teams in several ways.
“The degree helps position graduates to be strong leaders at Clark with an understanding of the full scope of running a business,” she explains. “Construction and development sites run like small companies, requiring skills in P&L [profit and loss] management, risk management, talent recruitment and retention, client service, marketing, sales, and more. McIntire helps to prepare graduates to tackle all these factors.”
As a board member of UVA McIntire’s Center for Real Estate and the Built Environment, Ross is excited to support real estate related initiatives at the University.
“I am a proud graduate and longtime supporter of UVA’s Architecture school, so I’ve always had an appreciation for and interest in the built environment,” she says.
Working with the Center appealed to her as she remains committed to the creating and sharing of knowledge across that wide-ranging subject: “I was excited by the opportunity to work with successful UVA alumni and support the University and its leadership as it has done so much for me,” she says noting that the Center’s Advisory Board Vice Chair for Alumni and Industry Engagement and Executive Committee member Robert Byron (A&S ’73, Law ’76) was instrumental in her involvement. “When your friend and fellow alum Robert Byron asks you to do something, you know it’s a thoughtful request. Robert doesn’t waste time, so you don’t say no!”
Much as she is confident that the scholarship program will foster interest in the construction field, Ross is similarly encouraged that the Center’s slate of efforts will allow more students to discover the vast realm of opportunities in the real estate world—and at an earlier point in their studies.
“I wish programs like this had been in place when I was a student,” says Ross.