Construction Educator Podcast Sneak Peek: Greg Starzyk, Cal Poly

In the first blog feature on the limited series, Cal Poly’s Greg Starzyk discusses his trade upbringing, a global construction-management career and his pivot into law and education

Greg Starzyk’s career as a construction educator may never have happened if not for the events of April 21, 1967.

That’s when a destructive tornado outbreak ravaged the area surrounding Starzyk’s hometown on the South Side of Chicago—most notably Oak Lawn, Illinois, about 16 miles southwest of the city’s downtown. In all, 45 tornados hit the area, which is known more for its chilling winters and Italian beef sandwiches than as a hot bed for tornados.

The recovery took months. By summer, a 15-year-old Starzyk needed a job. Thankfully, a local carpenter, who was also the father of a girl Starzyk had a crush on, needed some help rebuilding neighborhood garages that were destroyed in the tornados.

“He offered me $2 an hour, pay your own taxes,” said Starzyk, now a professor of construction management at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California.

“I went out there on the very first day and it was the hardest thing I ever did,” Starzyk said. “The temperature got over 100 degrees. The end of that day, I couldn’t even close my hands. I think every muscle in my body was sore. My toes, my fingers—I think even my ear lobe was sore.”

“But you stood there at the end of the day, where in the morning there was just air, a concrete slab and some lumber, and at the end of the day it was a building,” Starzyk said. “It was four walls and a roof—and it was magical. I said, ‘I built that.’ The next day, I was back to get beat up again, and there was another building. And I never got over that.”

The Construction Educator Podcast

In February 2020, Bluebeam’s then Academic Program Manager Emily Heppard and Procore’s Non-Profit Manager Miles Anderson set out at the Regions 6 & 7 Associated Schools of Construction Student Competition and Construction Management Conference in Reno, Nevada, to interview prominent and influential construction-industry educators.

Over the course of three days, Heppard and Anderson completed 11 interviews, which became “The Construction Educator Podcast,” a limited series collaboration between the two construction technology companies to help spotlight the work of impactful industry educators.

In each episode, the two talk with various educators of differing disciplines about teaching methods, technology and how to cultivate new construction-industry leaders. Over the course of the next month and a half, the Bluebeam Blog will spotlight four interviews from the limited series—starting with Greg Starzyk.Preview The Construction Educator Podcast, with Greg Starzyk:

Click here to listen to the Construction Educator podcast on Apple or Spotify.

Preview The Construction Educator Podcast, with Greg Starzyk:

Finding success

Starzyk turned that summer job as a carpenter’s assistant into a more than 50-year career in construction. After finishing trade school as a carpenter, Starzyk went on to earn a civil engineering degree, first through night school and ultimately finishing as a graduate of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

That propelled Starzyk into a 23-year career in construction management, where he worked on projects spanning almost 50 cities, 18 countries and six continents around the world. Somewhere along the line Starzyk also earned a law degree. All of which led to his current role as an educator at Cal Poly. “It really all started with picking up the hammer and building a garage,” Starzyk said.

Here are the highlights from Starzyk’s Construction Educator Podcast episode:

[6:00] Why Starzyk Went to Law School: “For many years, if somebody would have said, ‘Why don’t you go to law school?’ I would have said, ‘Well, that’s just nuts.’ I have no interest in the law.’ Yet in my career, my office sat across the aisle from a dozen attorneys. UOP, the company that I worked for has got a 100-year history. They have some 8,000 patents in their history worldwide. We had a big staff of patent lawyers and corporate lawyers, and much of my job came to be negotiating contracts.”

[13:51] The Evolution of Construction Administrative Roles: “Our industry continues to evolve, and what I have seen in my lifetime is the role of the architect changing. So, architects still design and always have, but I believe that when I was young, I would ordinarily expect the architect to manage the administrative aspects of the project, so helping the owner evaluate bids, administrating the contract, approving payments and those things. Today, architects and architectural education seems to have moved away from that. There’s less emphasis on that and in the industry; it’s more and more common for owners to look to somebody other than the architect to provide that sort of administrative support for the project.”

[27:26] How Technology is Changing—Demand for Digital: “Well at the very least, it would mean less disruption to the firm. Imagine if you had conversations or notes, memos stored in hard copy files or in a lot of different systems, and what you were trying to do is pull all of those things together, you would have a nightmare of work. I know of cases where people take boxes and boxes of paper and they show up and you have a room full of documentation, somebody has to sift through all of that.”

Follow the links below for more information on academic support and partnerships from Bluebeam and Procore:

Procore is a leading provider of construction management software. The company drives social impact through, an organization within Procore that connects nonprofit builders, schools, associations, and local organizations with construction education, workforce development and training programs, and free access to the full Procore product suite in order to support building for charity and advancing the construction industry.