Alum applies management experience to U.S. embassies worldwide
KENNESAW, Ga. (Jun 3, 2019) — Prior to earning his master’s degree in construction management, Brandon Blankinship would not have believed that he would one day be living overseas.
However, since graduating from the former Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU), now Kennesaw State University, he has gone on to call nearly a dozen countries his temporary home while building U.S. consulates and embassies worldwide.
Before his current role in the oversight of a $288 million compound development in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Blankinship found himself on job sites a short drive away from major historical locations such as Jordan’s Petra and Germany’s Berlin Wall. He has ridden his bicycle alongside volcanos and has participated in the annual Shark Bait Swim off the coast of Antigua. His living accommodations have varied from luxurious hotel rooms to a 20-foot shipping container he nested in for three months while working in Papua New Guinea.
Much like his work life abroad, his journey toward working overseas was anything but routine. Unlike many who eventually enter the field of construction management, Blankinship earned his undergraduate degree in history from the College of Charleston, and in 1998 he returned home to Atlanta to aid an architectural firm in performing historical research in the redevelopment in the city’s Castleberry Hill neighborhood. As the project came to a close, he became more integrated in the firm’s business side and discovered his passion for construction project management.
“When the time came to interview for positions with other companies, I often had to explain how someone with a history background was capable of handling large-scale projects,” Blankinship said. “That’s when I realized that if I was going to advance in my career, I needed credentials behind my name.”
After researching graduate programs, he decided to enroll in the College of Archictecture and Construction Management given its hands-on focus and strong ties with the local construction industry. Shortly thereafter, he met with Khalid Siddiqi, chair of the Department of Construction Management, to discuss his aspirations.
“After talking to him about my goals and expectations, he was willing to let a candidate with an undergraduate degree in history and very little field experience come into the program,” Blankinship said. “Without Dr. Siddiqi taking a chance on me, I don’t think I would be in the position that I am today.”
Prior to earning his master’s degree in December 2004, he was hired by a global development Kennesaw State University program management firm Boyken International, Inc. as a project manager. By August 2005, he accepted his first position abroad, moving his family to the Caribbean twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
“At the time, I was happy doing domestic projects around the Southeast,” said Blankinship, who contributed on construction sites in Atlanta and Cleveland, Tenn. “But to have an opportunity to go to the West Indies on a multi-million dollar job was just too exciting and lucrative to pass up.”
He learned quickly there were things he took for granted while living in the U.S. While staying at a resort on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts amounts to a great vacation, he said, living there for months on end requires adjustments to one’s diet and lifestyle.
Similarly, each new jobsite he worked on presented a different challenge. In his current role as project engineer for B.L. Harbert International, Blankinship is responsible for the procurement of all civil and architectural material needed to complete the project. In more developed countries like Mexico and the Netherlands, it is far easier to procure and ship materials as well as tap into the local labor market.
However, in countries like Chad, the location itself often makes it difficult to deliver material and it may take several days of safety and job training before site labor is ready to begin work.
What doesn’t change regardless of the project location are the skills Blankinship needs to complete his own tasks of cost and material estimation along with project management, all of which were covered extensively during his time on KSU’s Marietta Campus.
“Those were things I didn’t have any experience with prior, and without my professors taking the time to guide me through those processes, I would never be where I am today,” he said.
Siddiqi, who co-authored a peer-reviewed paper with Blankinship, said that his former student also deserves a great deal of credit for his work ethic.
“Brandon was a brilliant student indeed, but more importantly he had an exceptional ability to listen and act in a professional manner, both are must-have qualities in this industry,” Siddiqi said. “His desire to learn has allowed him to reach the peak of his career, and I’m so proud that our program was able to play a small part in helping him achieve those goals.”
Blankinship said that he hopes to continue adding new countries to his passport once he finishes the current project in Guatemala’s capital city. He still returns home from time to time to visit his mother, who has a world map filled with pins marking each of his stops. Though he misses some aspects of living in the U.S., there are other experiences he feels he would not have otherwise.
– Travis Highfield
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.