Vache Garabedian got his foot in the door of the construction industry as an intern for the Student Housing Replacement Project. Now he’s putting the finishing touches on the residence halls as a project engineer.
The 2018 Cal Poly Pomona valedictorian in construction engineering is a rarity in the construction industry, parlaying a summer internship three years ago into his current role of project engineer at Sundt Construction. He also was a field engineer for Sundt after he graduated.
When Garabedian found out that he would be working on the $185-million Student Housing Replacement Project, which will open for the spring semester, he said he was thrilled.
“I thought to myself, ‘I would be honored and blessed to build such a landmark project and be able to give back to the school,’” he said. “If this all works out, it would be incredible.”
Plus, he couldn’t beat the commute.
“It was convenient to be able to run across the street to class and then come back to the site,” he said.
Long before cable channels dedicated to construction and property renovation were created, Garabedian enjoyed watching home improvement television host Bob Villa.
“Growing up as a kid, I loved watching buildings go up,” the Toronto native said. “By my house, there was a building going up and every day in the summer, I would ride my bike there and just watch.”
Garabedian, 37, took a detour on the road to his construction career.
After high school, he drove trucks for 12 years. He would eventually meet the woman who would become his wife, Sevana, and moved to California in 2013.
He attended Glendale Community College for two years before transferring to Cal Poly Pomona.
“Cal Poly Pomona was my only choice,” he said. “It was the only place I wanted to go.”
Garabedian worked hard, earned good grades and got involved in the university’s chapter of the Construction Engineering Management Association. He eventually served as the club’s president.
At a club-sponsored lunch and learn, a speaker from Sundt made an impression on Garabedian.
“Something about him, his enthusiasm, his charisma – he seemed very passionate about the company,” Garabedian said.
In 2016, he interviewed with Sundt and earned an internship. Garabedian was still interning when the company broke ground on the residence halls and dining commons in 2017. He was able to work on the project while finishing his last year of school.
After graduation, Sundt hired him full time. As a project engineer, Garabedian is responsible for making sure construction is completed on schedule and on budget. He is also tasked with overseeing the work of subcontractors.
“At its peak, we had 300 craft subcontractors on site, from plumbers to carpenters to electricians,” he said. “Every nut and bolt, cubic yard of concrete, lightbulb – you name it – has to be approved by us on paper. It’s juggling 100 things at once and setting priorities.”
The work is never dull and always meaningful, Garabedian said.
“I love that no two days are the same. For sure, no two projects are the same,” he said. “You never look at the clock and say, ‘It’s only 1 o’clock.’ You look at the clock and say, ‘Oh no, it’s 1 o’clock.’ It is a race against the clock.”
While a student at Cal Poly Pomona, Garabedian said he would encourage his classmates to apply for internships, something he still emphasizes as an industry professional. The construction engineering academics coupled with the real-world experience he had as an intern was invaluable, he said.
“It prepares you on the theory side of it,” he said of studying construction engineering. “And being on site and seeing a project go up with your own two eyes is the practical side of it. It’s not only about the experience of an internship, but it is about being able to apply something you are studying in a textbook in the classroom to real life. It’s easy to understand the construction process when you marry the theoretical and practical together.”