2018 Rising Star Award in Construction Science: Derek Sparling

The UTSA CACP’s Rising Star Distinguished Alumni are those who are demonstrating bright promise in the first decade of their professional lives. They show evidence of outstanding professional progression, such as licensure or position increase over time in any field, and evidence of service to their communities or professions. Originally from San Antonio, Derek Sparling earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Construction Science from UTSA in 2011, after serving in the United States Marine Corp. He is a Senior Project Engineer at Skanska USA Building, where he has worked since 2012. He held a previous position with Zachry Construction. Derek is Interim Project Manager on his current project for Methodist Children’s Hospital Expansion and Renovation, a $205-million-dollar project. Past projects include a FedEx ground Hub expansion and St. Philips College renovation projects. Derek received the 2017 Skanska Texas Project Engineer of the Year Award, and the 2016 Skanska IFE Project of the Year Award for the Methodist Hospital Expansion Project. He earned Skanska’s Texas Diversity and Inclusions Project Award, also for Methodist Hospital. Derek has attended all of the UTSA Construction Science Career Fairs as a recruiter. He is an Athletic Fund donor, a football season ticket holder, and a pledge donor to the college – for life.

On his time spent at UTSA:

I was Honorably Discharged from the Marine Corps in 2007 and all I could think about was getting back to San Antonio, my home. I am a second generation Marine and Roadrunner (Father) and have several family members that have attended UTSA. Construction Science was new at the time and felt like a natural fit for my skillset and experience from the Marine Corps. There are a handful of people that stand out to me the most from UTSA. General Patin, for teaching me to know something because it is right and not because it is in a book and to always be prepared. Dr. K for teaching me that there is rarely ever a typical situation. The right answer is dependent on many variables which have to be considered, systematically. Professor Blizard for making me think about why things are the way they are and to have my own thoughts. Finally, Professor Pemberton for once telling me I look good for the University. I still don’t completely know what she meant but it meant a lot to me to hear it. There are many more but these people have stood out the most. 

On working with Skanska USA Building:

The experience I have gained the last 6 years is invaluable. The projects, the people, the constant grind of daily operations is world class. We are a large company, no doubt, but we are also a family. I probably had 15 coworkers at my wedding! My experience has also been quite varied. While I have had a few titles, I have worn many hats. From Business Development, to running jobs early on in my career as a Project Engineer there is never a shortage of challenging opportunities, nor a dull moment.

His typical workday:

Senior Project Engineer is a position on the path to becoming a Project Manager (I have since been promoted to Asst. Project Manager). I spent a year in the field as an Asst. Superintendent to get some field experience and help the project out where it was needed the most. My desire has always been to be a Project Manager so moving back to the office after a year was a smooth transition. My typical day would start at 7am with stretch and flex then into helping the field get lined out for the day. This would often include getting new subs through orientation, delivery coordination, and making sure they knew where to go. After this the remainder of my day was spent on quality assurance and control, permit coordination (many of them on a large healthcare job), sub coordination and documentation, and sometimes back in the field to help answer questions and follow up on RFIs that need to be written. Some days are full of meetings, from sub coordination meetings, schedule meetings, owner meetings, and MEP meetings. There really are no typical days as a Senior Project Engineer!

On recent or notable projects:

The Methodist Expansion was and will be the most notable project for me for a long time. It was an enormous challenge to me both professionally and personally. From spending four days straight at work during rain events, to dressing up as Chewbacca for the Children’s Hospital on Halloween, I have had my best days and worst days of my construction career all in one project. When I would have a bad day there I would remind myself of what we are building and who we are building it for. It really helped me put the big picture out in front so I can keep pushing toward it.

On winning the 2017 Skanska Texas Project Engineer of the Year Award:

Winning project engineer of the year means a few things to me. First, it means that I have earned the respect and confidence of my colleagues, since yearly awards are typically voted on. Second, it means that all the hard work and late nights/early mornings, and heart and soul put into what I do was noticed. I have never been satisfied just coming in and punching the clock and collecting a check. I want to leave a mark. When my time is up, nothing I do at work will matter, but the lessons I pass down will matter, and who I pass them down to will matter the most. I want the next generation to know what it means to pour yourself into what you love and believe in.

On attending every UTSA Construction Science Career Fair as a recruiter since he graduated:

At first, there was a need for someone to attend the career fairs and it made sense for it to be me due to being the only UTSA Alumni in Texas at the time. I already had the connectivity to the CSM Department and would have an idea of the candidates since I was in class with a lot of them. I also know how hard it can be to find an internship and full-time job in an experience-based industry when you have no experience! You would think that a Marine with eight years active duty, combat experience and now a degree would be a shoe in for a job right away, but you would be surprised. I was passed on a few times before I got a call back from Skanska. It can be discouraging to say the least, but if I can offer anything to the students, it is a message of resilience and persistence. My career advancement will only mean something to me if I help others.

His advice for current students:

There is unlimited power in believing in yourself and don’t be afraid to fail. Too often we are afraid to do something because we may not succeed, or we are afraid of looking stupid. Failure to me means I figured out how not to do something but I believe in myself and I believe that I am going to try again. There is a Japanese proverb that I find very suiting to this: Nanakorobi yaoki – Fall Seven Times and Stand Up Eight. All you have to do is stand up one more time!

The UTSA CACP Distinguished Alumni Awards were introduced at the college’s 15-Year Celebration in Spring of 2017 and are now awarded annually as part of the CACP’s Scholarship Banquet each fall semester. Distinguished alumni are nominated by faculty, vetted through a faculty committee, and voted on by faculty.