Student Profile: Doug Novak

Doug Novak (BCE 2017) was successfully ensconced in a management career. He'd started working in high school, after giving in to youthful arrogance and deciding he did not need a diploma. He worked in construction and, for 15 years, in restaurant management. His mother, who holds advanced degrees in economics, often urged him to go back to school, but Novak was not convinced until he found himself passing his mother's admonitions on to his own daughters.

"I felt like a hypocrite telling them how important college is. So, at 40, I enrolled at Century College. I earned an Associate in Arts and an Associate in Science in Engineering, graduating with a 3.98 GPA. I proved I was pretty good at math and science; I was even recognized as Math Student of the Year in 2012. Then I transferred to the U of M and have maintained a GPA of 3.63 in my major."

Now, Novak and both his daughters are in college. His younger daughter is currently studying communications at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. His oldest started at UMN in January, working on a master’s degree in counseling. He and his daughters talk about school all the time.

“School has kept me young and engaged,” says Novak, “but it is challenging to get everything done and keep up with my family and my business.” In the beginning, he took on some small construction jobs to earn money, but it seems Novak doesn’t naturally gravitate to “small” or “part time” work. His construction business has blossomed; he now has five employees working for him. For the last year, Novak has gotten away from handling tools, investing his time with clients, scheduling employees and projects, and handling all the bills and paperwork.

“Balance” often means 17-hour days, a situation that is challenging for his wife, too. He usually makes it home by five, but spends the evening working on either schoolwork or the business. Yet he and his wife make it a priority to a vacation each year (over Christmas or Spring Break) to get away with no work and no school. “Time management gets easier with experience,” says Novak.

This semester—his last—is proving even more time consuming: three advanced-level classes plus Capstone. His Capstone team (mentored by Lauren Snyder, Anton Tillmann, and Reuben Verdoljak from HGA) is developing a set of specifications and drawings for a 2-story steel and concrete building. Novak especially appreciates the way these mentors treat team meetings as a conversation. Novak says he and his teammates ask good questions, and the mentors don’t just spout easy answers. He enjoys listening to and participating with these professionals as they discuss the problems and explore options before settling on a solution.

Novak has really appreciated the process of learning, even the challenge of tests. When he first started in the program, he felt like he was learning a new language. His previous school gave him a good background on statics and dynamics, but no training at all on structures, so he had a lot to learn. Group work has also forced him to be open to new ways of thinking and working with people. “Everyone has their own way of thinking, and often there is not one right way to solve the problem, and there is no boss. So, I’ve learned some new ways to work with people.”

“I’m a little worried that I will be bored when I graduate and all this is over!” But Novak’s worry seems unfounded as he has a lot of ideas for his future. He’d like to continue to practice his management skills, adding his new people skills to what he has been doing for a long time. He has thought about getting a Master’s. He is even drawn to teaching, perhaps at a community college where he could help others like himself discover what they can do. For now though, he is drawn to working with structures, buildings, and roadways—“practical stuff,” he says. “I like to look at a building or structure and know what is going to happen. I’m looking forward to applying all I’ve been learning.”