For 20 straight hours, Matthew Olsen ’11 and a small team of MSOE classmates huddled in a room in a race against teams from other schools nationwide to create the best preconstruction proposal, starting with a project’s drawings & specs, then working into the wee hours to develop the construction schedule and plans, PowerPoint presentation and virtual model.
“It was a blast, and it’s even better when you win,” notes Olsen, whose team took first place that year in the Preconstruction National Championship at the Associated Schools of Construction Student Competition.
It was just one of the memorable moments Olsen experienced at MSOE, where he double-majored in architectural engineering and construction management. A Chicago native, he fell in love with MSOE right away. “I liked the smaller school environment, but still having an urban campus. Usually if you choose a small school, you’re going to be in the middle of nowhere,” he notes. “It’s unique to have a small school right in the middle of a city.”
MSOE’s smaller size allowed him to forge close bonds with his professors. In fact, Dr. Jeong Woo, the program director for construction management, and Kevin Morin, Olsen’s former wrestling coach who is now MSOE’s vice president of operations, both attended Olsen’s wedding.
“There were a lot of deep, lasting relationships that I developed at MSOE that were a difference maker,” says Olsen, who still returns to campus yearly to connect with faculty and staff.
Olsen made the most of his time on campus: He spent four years on MSOE’s wrestling team and then coached his fifth year. He was also treasurer for the Student Athletic Committee and active in competitive design teams for the architectural engineering and construction management program.
As a double-major, he had to complete two senior design projects and served as project manager for a senior project that involved designing a small building for Lakeshore State Park, the island near Summerfest grounds. “Those were a lot of good memories, staying up really too late to work with friends on the design,” he says.
After graduation Olsen worked in construction management, starting as a project superintendent at Turner Construction Co. in Chicago, where he coordinated field operations for a $70 million project at O’Hare International Airport. Two years later, he started his MBA at the University of Chicago.
“I was always interested in learning more, and MSOE does a good job of having you to take classes outside of your concentration, and that exposure to a couple of business classes led me to want to pursue an MBA,” he says.
Today he’s vice president of credit tenant lease and structured debt products for Mesirow Financial, an investment bank in Chicago. He achieved the rank of vice president when he was just 28.
“If you want to be a leader and advance beyond what at first your age might limit you to, then it’s important to learn how to work hard even when you’re tired, how to innovate even on a small-scale problem,” he says. “Those are skills that I learned at MSOE that are all very transferable to any job.”
While he never envisioned working in investment banking when he first began college, he enjoys seeing a different perspective on the construction industry through his real estate and construction financing deals.
“The look on some of the superintendents’ faces when I arrive on site and ask super-detailed questions is great because people don’t expect me to have that background,” he says. “My work blends engineering, investment banking and financial markets, and on any given day and any given deal, I can pull from my background at MSOE or my time at my MBA. It’s pretty unique.”
His advice to students: Stay open to other possibilities.
“There’s a world of opportunity available to students; it’s not just limited to the professions you might initially see as tied to your degree,” he says. “But the skills and go-getter attitude you develop at MSOE will help you no matter what you decide to do.”