Building a Bridge to a Better Career

Louis Bolinger

Project Engineer, Fluor Enterprises

After two decades of working in heavy construction, Louis Bolinger felt he needed a career boost. He decided the best way to do that was to go back to school for his master’s degree.

“I was looking for an extra edge to compete and help my career progress,” Louis said. “You can never have enough education. The industry's constantly changing, and furthering your education helps you stay on top of those changes.”

Because of the demands of his job, he needed an online program. He found exactly what he was looking for in the UW Master of Science in Construction Management degree.

“Flexibility was number one on my priority list, because I was working 40- to 60-hour weeks and couldn’t go to a university every day,” said Louis. “There's not many other programs that are online in my specialized industry, and the UW is one of the premier schools in the country.”

Louis currently serves as a project engineer working on the huge effort to replace New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge. Here he talks about his experience in our program, and how it helped give him an edge in a highly competitive and rapidly evolving industry.


Can you tell us a little about your current job?
I’m a project engineer for Fluor Enterprises, working on bridges and highway infrastructure. I’m currently working on a mega-project in New York called the New NY Bridge. It's a $4 billion design-build project.

I'm the project engineer for the rebar on the project, which consists of two large cable-stayed structures, each more than 3 miles long with main span towers about 400 feet tall. So it's quite a bit of rebar. I coordinate development and approval of rebar shop drawings, perform constructability reviews, schedule rebar deliveries by barge and truck, and perform quality control.

Do you think having a master's helped you land your job?
Most definitely. In obtaining my master’s, I demonstrated discipline, commitment to the industry and the ability to achieve when challenged to both my employer and myself.

When I graduated, I was also finishing up my last work assignment and needed a new position to go to. Having the master’s helped me get noticed within my own company, which is kind of hard to do when you work for a company that has 40,000 employees. They came to me and asked if I’d be interested in the New NY Bridge project, and I said absolutely.

Are you using skills you learned in the master's program in your day-to-day work?
Yes. Because I build bridges, my interest before I went into the program was marine construction, and there was a particular class in the program that covered that. I found it very interesting and gained knowledge and background on the technical issues of marine construction, which I work on every day now.

There was also a class about alternative procurement methods. The New NY Bridge project is of particular interest in the state of New York because design-build public works projects weren't allowed here prior to this project. They had to change the law to allow this project to happen. It was good to have an understanding of this alternative method prior to my arrival here.

On a regular basis I use estimating methods I learned in the heavy construction estimating class, as well as construction techniques I honed in the computer-aided construction class.

Do you think having the master’s will be helpful for your career long term?
Yes. There are a lot of very experienced and highly educated people within my company. We are one of the top design-build contractors in the country. Within certain levels of management, having a master’s is almost expected.

What was the online learning experience like? 
Online learning offered flexibility. You can do your work at night or on the weekend when you have time. A portion of each class, called Discussion Forum, provided interaction with other students, to exchange ideas, experiences and thoughts. The good part of this was some of the more experienced students provided sound input to problems presented, while the less experienced or younger students often brought fresh ideas.

What do the instructors bring to the program?
Besides their academic excellence, they bring a lot of real-world experience and a wealth of knowledge. There was a lot of encouragement while they also tested your thought process. They made you think outside the box. The assignments were very practical in nature. To me it wasn't so much about theory as it was about real-world industry problems.