Christi Saunders

Construction Engineer

“Basically, my job changes every day, so it’s really hard to explain,” Christi Saunders says cheerily about her role as a virtual construction engineer for Pittsburgh-based Mascaro Construction. Typically, she divides her time between the computer screen and the job site.

Before any brick and mortar construction begins, Saunders works in her office using specialized software to visualize and model an entire construction project from start to finish. 3-D Building Information Modeling (BIM) software enables her, she says, to “solve problems before they become problems.”

As Pitt prepares students like Christi Saunders to grow professionally, Pittsburgh and its buildings and infrastructure flourish, too.

On her computer screen, Saunders simulates construction jobs to ensure their success on the ground—not only the physical building of a structure but also the organizational logistics and operational complexities. The BIM software monitors the project's actual progress but also conveys how changes in work flow, materials, and other factors affect "downstream" results in building costs, labor, scheduling, and so on.

In the field, her role shifts to project engineer, where she manages multiple subcontractors, continues to trouble-shoot problems, and navigates a complex, multilayered production schedule in real-time with onsite workers. Recently, she wrapped up a project overseeing the Heinz Field South Plaza expansion: 3,000 seats, multiple amenities, and more than 20 subcontractors to make it all happen. The project won the top prize for renovation construction/more than $10 million, at the 2016 MBA Building Excellence Awards in Pittsburgh in February.

Saunders—a Pitt graduate who earned a master's degree in civil and environmental engineering from the Swanson School of Engineering—focused on sustainability and green design during her studies. She is one of about 900 engineering students who receive undergraduate or graduate degrees from the Swanson School of Engineering each year, and about half of these students participate in an elective Cooperative Education program that gives them paid job rotations and hands-on work with a roster of more than 200 companies.

Beyond that, the University of Pittsburgh has generated 15,500 jobs regionally during the past five years through its campus construction needs, infrastructure upgrades, and property development activities. Also, the Pittsburgh campus has nearly 20 buildings that have received top LEED certification. LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is nationally recognized for its ratings of buildings that meet key standards for environmentally friendly design, construction, and operation.

For years, John C. “Jack” Mascaro (ENGR ’66, ‘80G), founder and chairman of Mascaro Construction Company, has been a significant contributor to and supporter of the University of Pittsburgh and the Swanson School of Engineering, especially through The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI), which is working to develop and inspire a new generation of innovative and environmentally responsible engineers.

Many of these freshly minted engineers—like Christi Saunders—are hired by Mascaro Construction and other companies based in the region. As Pitt prepares its students to grow professionally, the surrounding city and its structures flourish, too.