Mickey Mouse and the Olympics

Alumna builds on her CSE education and love for buildings

April 8, 2019

As a student, Bailey Benson (civil engineering ’18) was driven and loved making things. The North Carolina-born single child knew she wanted to be involved in commercial construction—a fascination ingrained by both her father, a residential architectural engineer, and her grandfather, a former electrical engineer who would take her to construction sites whenever they walked their neighborhood together.

Today, Benson is a field engineer with PCL Construction Services in California.

“My job involves working with everyone from designers to tradespeople, and my days vary wildly,” she said. “I help make sure everything that goes into making a structure gets done, under budget and on time.”

In her first year after graduating from CSE, Benson found herself interacting daily with Walt Disney Co. employees—specifically the engineers and famed Imagineers who bring Disney theme parks and attractions to life. PCL Construction was the general contractor for a building remodel of Downtown Disney District at Disneyland Resort in California.

“I was in charge of the electrical and mechanical scope of work,” she recalled. 

“I still can’t believe I got to work with and learn from all these creative Imagineers who create all the cool effects,” Benson said.

This year—and for the next 30 months—Benson has been assigned a new project. She will help build new student housing on the University of California, Los Angeles campus. The 17-story structure will be used as part of the athlete village for the 2028 Olympic Games.

Finding joy and purpose

Problem solving and the ability to think on her feet, plus seeing details, are just some of the skills Benson attributes to her time at the University of Minnesota.

She majored in civil engineering at the College of Science and Engineering and minored in construction management, a program at the University of Minnesota's College of Continuing and Professional Studies with strong CSE ties. (College of Science and Engineering alumni are among its faculty.)

Benson was recipient of the University's Richard M. Schulze Family Scholarship, of which she continues to be grateful.

“The scholarship helped me focus more on my education and less on worrying how to finance my degree,” she said.

In 2016, her second year as a Gopher, Benson landed an internship with her current employer after talking to a recruiter at a campus career fair. She ended up spending the summer working on a Mystic Lake Casino Hotel construction project in Prior Lake, Minnesota. The following year, she was part of the PCL Construction team that built the new University of Minnesota Track and Field Stadium. 

A full-time job offer came her senior year.

“When I was told they needed someone in California, I jumped at the chance,” Benson said of the company responsible for many buildings across the United States, including the Minneapolis Central Library, Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America, and Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Moving to the West Coast was exciting also because she had roots there. “My parents still live in San Diego, where I went to high school,” she noted.

When asked about her future goals, Benson replied: “I love what I do. It gives me a lot of joy and purpose." 

“I want to someday build a skyscraper as cool as the Empire State Building—a building that 100 years later, people will look at and go ‘wow,’” Benson said.

She also hopes to encourage more college students, and women in particular, to consider construction as a career.

“You’re only going to make yourself more competitive with more knowledge, if you pair civil engineering and construction management at the University of Minnesota like I did,” she said. “There is this perception that construction work is physically demanding and it doesn’t pay well. So students don’t even look there. Also, men by far outnumber women in the field. But there is a lot of growth opportunity in this industry, especially for women.”

Story by Pauline Oo

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