Chatter quickly filled the courtyard outside Town and Gown as industry professionals and students filed into the American Construction Management Association’s annual symposium on Monday night. With talks ranging from the meaning of the 21st century construction industry to advice for future graduating seniors, more than 20 companies and a hundred students attended.
This year marks the 27th anniversary of the symposium, which provides students with the opportunity to network and hear from industry professionals in the fields of construction, architecture, engineering and more. The night’s theme – Imaginative Innovation – centered around a presentation of the upcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles, which is scheduled to open in 2025 and showcases the power of visual storytelling.
The symposium began with dinner and cocktail hour, then moved to a panel and question-and-answer session with professionals involved in the museum project, including keynote speaker Angelo Garcia, president of Lucas Real Estate Holdings, and Principal at Stantec Michael Siegel, who each welcomed the roles and museum construction.
Yannis Yortsos, dean of Viterbi School of Engineering, gave one of the opening remarks for the event, sharing his appreciation for the symposium and its continuing legacy.
“This event is unique among all our other disciplines,” Yortsos said in his opening remarks. “It’s the only department/event that has this ability to bring engineers together in a way that they can connect with each other and celebrate innovation achievements.”
The symposium is completely student-run and hosted by USC’s CMAA branch, an organization dedicated to providing career preparation resources for students interested in pursuing careers in the field of construction management. This year’s symposium was chaired by Nina Zanghi, a senior majoring in environmental engineering, and Katherine Moir, a senior majoring in civil engineering with an emphasis in building science, who are part of the executive board tasked with organizing and planning the event.
For Zanghi, the goal of CMAA and the event is to create community and provide opportunities to build careers.
“All our work [as part of CMAA] is to focus on civil engineering students or other students interested in construction, building or project management,” Zanghi said. “We take them [in] and give them opportunities such as information sessions, talks[ing] one on one with recruiters … This event is all about networking and giving scholarships to a lot of these kids.
The symposium, Viterbi’s biggest event, marked the first time the Lucas Museum was presented to the public and included an in-depth discussion about how the project works, including its location across the street from USC.
“We really like the Lucas Museum and we’ve seen it go up. It’s been in the works for a long time, and we’re really excited. We’re really hoping to win [the museum] and happy we were able to convince them to present it here tonight,” said Zanghi. “[The museum] is so close to USC, and George Lucas is a big part of [the University’s history]. We thought it would be really cool to bring it all together.”
Zanghi’s biggest hope for the night is to help students learn a new perspective on the construction industry.
“Some people think construction is just boring and nothing interesting, but it is, and our goal is to help students understand that and make connections,” he said. “We want to help people build their own careers and hopefully continue with our club and become leaders in it later.”
The event also brought together alumni and industry professionals from all over the LA area, many of whom chose to participate because of past experience with the association.
“Coming to the event when I was still young in college was really helpful to recognize the name of the contractor and hear the presentation about the field,” said Junco Nelson, one of the industry professionals attending the event. “I remember when I was a sophomore, [the symposium] It was about the redevelopment of Exposition Park, and I learned a lot about the actual USC environment, which was really helpful.
Getting the chance to talk and learn more about the construction industry is what has kept Jacqueline Chen, a senior majoring in civil engineering, coming back to the symposium for the past two years.
“I think my favorite part is just casually and informally talking with the industry representatives sitting around me, along with listening to the event speakers talk about a project that they themselves are involved in and passionate about,” said Chen. “Just them telling me what they were involved in gave me an insight into what the contracting industry is like, and what I can do in the future.”
The night ended in joy for many CMAA members. The annual event distributes scholarships to distinguished students from the organization, with this year’s awards reaching more than $25,000. Among the winners was Elleanna Biller, a sophomore majoring in business administration, who won the USC CMAA Lower Classman Scholarship.
Biller said he is truly grateful to be a part of the CMAA and to receive the award.
“I’m really excited. I first heard about CMAA earlier this semester when they came to my class for real estate development. I want to get into affordable housing and construction is a big part of it,” Biller said. “I wrote about it on my application .”
The event awarded six scholarships in total, including Zanghi and CMAA’s president, Natalie Le, a senior majoring in civil engineering.
“The biggest payoff is nights like tonight … when I see students make connections, and old friends in the industry catch up all because of the hard work that our symposium co-chairs and the rest of our executive board put in all year,” Le said. at the close of the show. “No other event feels as special as the symposium, and I hope we can all come together to explore and celebrate the industry that connects us all.”