CEE senior Dennis Thurow interviews alumnus Kevin Foster

Dennis Thurow is a senior in CEE, scheduled to graduate in December of 2016 with a primary in construction management and a secondary in structural engineering. He has been a Student Adviser for the CEE department for two years and was a member of the Fighting Illini Football Team for three years. After graduation, he will join Power Construction in Chicago as a Project Engineer.

 

Kevin Foster (BS 09, MS 10) is Systems Completion Lead for ExxonMobil, currently working on the Hebron Project, a $14 billion oil platform that will be installed off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. Kevin lives in Newfoundland, Canada, with his wife, Vanessa. In 2015, Kevin and Vanessa made a gift to establish the Foster Research Scholarship Fund in the CEE department.

 


What led you to the field of construction management?

Since I was young, I’ve always liked to “build stuff.” Civil engineering was a natural fit. It was freshman year, during my CEE195 class, when we got an overview of all the different CEE primaries, when it became obvious to me that construction management was the area that really got me excited. There’s something about being at a site, working with the team to solve problems, and being able to see the results of that work in the field that really motivates me.  

There are a lot of choices for construction management and civil engineering. What stood out to you about CEE at Illinois above the other options?

There’s not much that didn’t stand out. It’s a top-ranked program, has some of the best and most dedicated professors, great facilities, and excellent students to work with and learn from. Specifically, I remember during my senior year of high school attending SITE (Student Introduction to Engineering) on campus and getting to meet and hear from current students in Engineering. Everything I heard and saw got me excited about the U of I – the students, professors, Newmark crane bay, the engineering library, the quad, campus, Green Street, etc. Attending Engineering Open House in high school had the same impact.

Throughout your undergraduate studies and your year in the construction management master’s program, which professor was most influential in your development? How have your interactions with them helped you in industry?

Without a doubt, that’s Professor Liang Liu. I remember meeting Professor Liu my freshman year and his becoming my faculty adviser. As adviser, he helped me get involved in undergraduate research, introduced me to industry contacts which led to internships, helped me plan my study abroad, assisted with numerous scholarship references and the list goes on. Through all these experiences my eyes were opened to different companies, industries, projects and cultures, and in turn this allowed me to realize what I was looking for in my career.

Outside of school work, what were some opportunities you took advantage of to get involved on campus?

There was no shortage of opportunities on campus – whether it was ASCE, Chi Epsilon, industry presentations on campus, the CEE alumni dinner and site visits, undergrad research, etc. 

You are currently working on the Hebron Project for ExxonMobil, a roughly $14 billion offshore oil platform. Can you outline the major aspects of the project and some of the challenges that have come with it?

The project is a large offshore drilling and production platform that will get installed approximately 200 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. The project consists of four primary modules – two drilling modules, the Utilities/Process module, and the Living Quarters.  These modules were built in separate fabrication yards and are now being integrated together in Newfoundland. 

One of the main complexities of the project was the project locations. The project had major engineering offices in Houston, Newfoundland, Beijing and Perth. Fabrication of two of the modules was in Korea, and of the other two modules in Newfoundland. Transportation and integration of the modules was also a significant feat. Transportation of the large module from Korea to Newfoundland required one of the largest heavy-lift vessels in the world, for the two-month, 15,000-mile journey from Korea to Newfoundland. 

You have held many different positions on The Hebron Project. What insight have you gained from contributing to such a large project in those different roles?

I’ve been very fortunate to have been on the project for the past five years. It’s been an incredible learning opportunity to experience everything from engineering, through equipment procurement, fabrication, commissioning and now getting into turnover to operations. It’s special to see something that started out as a concept with a small project team morph into a mega-project with thousands of workers.  

How do you feel the program at Illinois uniquely prepared you for the tasks and challenges associated with your work?

First and foremost, the ability to solve problems is the primary skill I learned in school and apply on the job. The technical knowledge that comes with an Illinois engineering degree is a big part of that. It’s all the other experiences, from working on group projects and presentations; hearing about projects from industry presenters; taking non-engineering courses like business, human resources and law; and studying abroad that rounded out my education and prepared me for my career.

I understand you recently made a gift to establish a scholarship in CEE and that your company is matching your gift. Can you tell me why you believe in giving to the department in this way and what impact you hope your gift will have?

We chose to give to the university to give back to a place that has had such a big impact on my life. When I was in school I was fortunate to have benefitted from scholarships, and I’m happy to be in a position to give back.  The scholarship is intended for underclassmen, and I hope it opens the door for the recipients to get engaged with the CEE department early on in their college careers.  

Do you have any advice for current CEE students or anything else that you would like to share about your time at Illinois or your time with ExxonMobil?

While it might not seem like it, four years is a very short amount of time. Take advantage of your time in CEE at Illinois and get involved as soon as possible. The department offers so many opportunities whether it’s research, student organizations, site tours, industry presentations, international trips, etc. The experiences will broaden your knowledge and open your eyes to new opportunities.