‘Leave a Mark on Your Alma Mater’: Alumni Construction Professionals See a New Side of VMI
This academic year, construction equipment and noise seem to be everywhere on post, as renovations continue to both Preston Library and Scott Shipp Hall. Many of those working on these projects, of course, were unacquainted with VMI before their work brought them here.
Some, though, already knew their way around post, as they once wore cadet uniforms, lived in barracks, and ate their meals in Crozet Hall.
A number of alumni are working on the renovations to both Scott Shipp and the library, while a few others just completed their work at the Institute. Bill Madison ’90 was involved with the post infrastructure project, while Mike Jeffries ’91 assisted with the recent renovation of the press box at Foster Stadium. When asked about their work, all mentioned the pride they feel as they upgrade buildings at what was once their home away from home.
Preston Duff is a member of the Class of 2019, but thanks to coming into VMI with a number of academic credits, he graduated in December 2017 with a degree in civil engineering. Right after he graduated, he went to work for Whiting-Turner, a general contractor based in Baltimore, Maryland.
As an assistant project manager on the Scott Shipp Hall project, he’s responsible for a great deal of coordination among subcontractors and tradespeople—including the use of the 135-foot-tall crane that now towers over the Institute skyline.
“It is a lot of coordination,” said Duff of his job. “We actually don’t self-perform any of the work ourselves. We subcontract out all of the work. It’s a liaison position between the owner and the day-to-day workers.”
Duff explained that while many contractors have their management team stay in a central office, he’s on the job site each day. It’s an arrangement he prefers.
“Rather than sitting and looking at drawings in a centrally located office, you can go and understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, why you’re making certain decisions,” Duff stated.
As a cadet, Duff only had a few classes in Scott Shipp, but he’s now taking advantage of a chance to see the building in a new way.
“One of the most enjoyable parts is being able to see how the building was originally [constructed] and the decisions they made early on, but at the same time getting to leave a mark on your alma mater,” he stated.
Duff also enjoys visiting with faculty members he knew as a cadet, including Maj. Matt Jarman, assistant professor of psychology, and Col. Turk McCleskey, professor of history. He also sees cadets he knows, as there are a few members of the Class of 2019 taking a fifth year to complete their studies.
“A lot of them will like to ask me what it’s like to be on the other side,” he commented.
Nearby on Letcher Avenue, David Souliotis ’15, Owen Duggar ’15, and Mark Reilly ’88 are all involved in the renovation of Preston Library. Unlike Duff, who works out of an office trailer on the job site, the three W.M. Jordan employees work in the company’s Richmond office but make regular trips to post to get updates on progress and offer guidance.
While Souliotis was a cadet, it’s likely that no one would have predicted that he’d go into construction. He was a history major who commissioned into the Army upon graduation, and while serving as an infantry officer, discovered an affinity for project management.
“Being in the military, I was able to take part in several different types of projects—being able to see a project go from the ground up, and being involved with a team, and learning a new set of skills—that’s what attracted me to the construction industry,” he stated.
Souliotis just completed his first year working for Jordan as a project engineer, after learning about opportunities with the company through Brittney Matthews ’15, who suggested he reach out to Duggar.
“It’s fun to come back [to post] and see incremental progress each week,” said Souliotis. “It’s really encouraging to see the changes the Institute is making to the library to make it more modern and make it more accessible and allow more research to be done by cadets.”
Reilly, a 16-year veteran of Jordan, graduated with a degree in civil engineering and worked in highway construction for years before making the shift to building construction. At Jordan, he’s found himself among friends, as many VMI alumni are employed there. He credits Glenn Thompson ’90 with helping him get a job with the company, as the two had first met while playing soccer at the Institute.
As vice president and project executive, Reilly’s days are busy, as he manages six project teams and is also in charge of customer relations for the projects he’s overseeing.
“No two projects are the same—that’s the great thing about construction,” he stated. “It’s always changing, always evolving.”
As an alumnus who’s been away from post for a number of years, Reilly marvels at the recent additions to post such as Third Barracks and the Corps Physical Training Facility. Because of his job, he’s seen construction on many college campuses, most recently in the form of a library expansion at Virginia Commonwealth University, and he’s quite glad to see VMI keeping up with the times.
“To see that VMI is looking in that direction is really great,” he stated. “It’s great for the Corps and the community around Lexington.”
Mostly, Reilly is proud of the work Jordan is doing—and keenly aware that the true client on this job is the cadet.
“It’s quite an honor,” he said of working on post. “It gives you a sense of pride, giving something back. When you walk outside and you see the cadets going by, it gives you a sense of a higher purpose.”
- By Mary Price