By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Velerianna Garcia will have major bragging rights when students return to the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus this fall.
Not only will she be studying inside UNK’s newest building, but she can also point to the state-of-the-art facility and tell people, “I worked on that project.”
The UNK senior has spent the past 14 months interning with Lincoln-based Hausmann Construction, the general contractor in charge of the Discovery Hall project.
“It’s a pretty cool building to be my first, and it’s really exciting that I get to take classes in it,” said Garcia, a construction management major from Norfolk.
Located on UNK’s west campus, Discovery Hall is a 90,000-square-foot building that will house more than a dozen academic programs, creating a cross-disciplinary environment that promotes collaboration and innovation among the faculty, students and staff who share the space. The three-story structure features a mix of modern and industrial design, along with cutting-edge equipment used in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.
As Garcia puts it, “It’s pretty badass.”
The 23-year-old has been hands-on with the UNK project throughout her paid internship, tackling a variety of responsibilities at the construction site. She’s installed windows in the summer heat, processed submittals and written dozens of requests for information while coordinating with the architect and subcontractors.
On the third floor, which Garcia calls “her baby,” she was the point person tasked with ensuring the final punch-list items were completed on time.
“I like the problem-solving,” Garcia said. “I like seeing the processes and watching things come together. You’re a part of something bigger.”
Marc Fredericks, a project superintendent with Hausmann Construction, was impressed with Garcia’s knack for building relationships and communicating with others.
“She’s not afraid to talk to people,” said Fredericks, who graduated from UNK’s construction management program in 2009.
And that’s a big benefit in this industry.
“In construction, everybody thinks you need 30 years of experience and you need to understand every aspect of it. But we’re all kind of learning as we go, because construction is changing so much,” Fredericks said.
Garcia, who worked for UNK Dining Services for almost three years, didn’t have any construction experience before connecting with Hausmann at a UNK career fair. The past 14 months have been invaluable for her.
“They gave me an opportunity to grow in my position, and I feel like I’ve taken advantage of it as best I can,” she said.
UNK’s construction management program requires each student to complete at least one internship before graduation, giving them an opportunity to gain industry knowledge and explore different career paths. Many of these internships lead to full-time job offers.
The program boasts a 100% job placement rate, which doesn’t come as a surprise to Fredericks.
“UNK is putting out really good graduates,” he said. “They’re ready to tackle anything and get after it.”
With her work at Discovery Hall wrapped up, Garcia transitioned this week to a project in Grand Island, where Hausmann is finishing a renovation of Memorial Stadium. In mid-August, she’ll be back in Kearney to assist with the Goldenrod senior living facility project.
Garcia plans to continue her internship during the 2020-21 academic year and hopes to transition to a full-time position with Hausmann when she graduates next May. The Lincoln company is also exploring that option.
“I think she’d be a good fit,” Fredericks said.
Construction start: May 2018
Opening: August 2020
Cost: Part of a $30 million project replacing Otto C. Olsen
Size: 90,000 square feet
Location: West of 19th Avenue between University Drive and U.S. Highway 30. It is on the west end of UNK’s campus, northeast of West Center and south of Ockinga Hall.
Replaces: Otto C. Olsen, which was built in 1955 and has been on the state’s capital construction replacement list for more than 20 years
Funding: It is paid for by renewal bonds and through state appropriation from LB957, which included the University of Nebraska Facilities Program of 2016. That appropriation directed deferred maintenance funding to facility replacement projects, including the Otto Olsen building.
Academic programs: Astronomy, aviation systems, business intelligence, computer science, construction management, cyber security, engineering, industrial distribution, industrial technology, information networking and telecommunications, information technology, interior and product design, mathematics and statistics, physics.