September 01, 2017
Driven to Succeed: CEE Alum Excels in Construction Management for Tesla Motors Gigafactory
When CEE alum Sophie Grodsinsky joined Tesla Motors as a Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing Construction Engineer in 2016, she’d never worked a day in construction in her life.
The first years of her career had been spent as a field engineer in environmental engineering. Yet, Grodsinsky was drawn to Tesla’s place at the forefront of innovation and she was confident that her time spent studying both Civil & Environmental Engineering and Engineering & Public Policy at CMU had prepared her with the foundation to adapt quickly to this new challenge.
Her assignment was construction project management at Tesla’s Gigafactory 1—a factory spreading over one million square feet and home to the production of lithium ion batteries, motors, and drive units for the Tesla Model 3. With design, construction, and operation occurring simultaneously inside the factory, the newly hired Grodsinsky managed the budgets, schedules, distribution of design packages, field coordination, and commissioning of six electrical subcontractors. The work was outside her comfort zone, but Grodsinsky didn’t let that slow her down, drawing on problem-solving and collaboration skills she’d built at CMU, including in her CEE senior design course.
“The senior project experience was hugely fundamental in determining how I approach problem solving for things I've never seen before. From the organizational skills to how to work with a diverse group, that course was one of the most useful tools I was given throughout my four years at CMU,” she says.
At Tesla, Grodsinsky quickly found a mentor to advise her on the complexity of managing teams with competing scopes of work, as well as several construction managers and engineers willing to provide guidance and feedback. “I made my own support network. I reached out to anybody who had a bit of spare time and built my way up,” she says.
Building her way up is exactly what she did, and Grodsinsky is now the sole construction manager within the entire factory. “I do everything from mechanical, electrical, plumbing, controls, commissioning architectural work, light, safety, concrete, carpet. You name it, whatever's going on in that million square feet I'm managing,” she says.
Grodsinsky credits the interdisciplinary nature of CMU’s curriculum as preparing her to work with colleagues across such a wide variety of fields. She also adds that her CEE research experiences have proven greatly valuable, including research she did with Professor Kelvin Gregory on rare earth element recycling, something that’s also being worked on at Tesla.
“Learning how to do research as a student—seeing what it's like to have that responsibility, not getting too worked up or nervous, and learning how to perform under pressure—that was really helpful,” she says. “I'm super grateful for the CEE department. It has very much shaped my professional career and my life.”
For Grodsinsky, entering the unfamiliar territory of construction has paid off and she encourages other current students and recent graduates to not shy away from risk. “I’d tell everyone getting started to go outside of their comfort zone and think big picture about what kind of an engineer, what kind of a professional, they want to become. I think it's really important to stretch yourself; it helps you find your way.”