Digital Innovation, People Spotlight, Program and Project Management, Transforming Los Angeles

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts worldwide. This week, we highlight a senior program and design manager from our U.S. West region and provide insight into their project management inspiration and work.

For the past 21 years, Carolyn Stegon has worked at AECOM as a dedicated leader and change-maker in the industry. She was the program manager for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) $2 billion Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for nearly a decade, with a team of more than 40 employees crossing multiple business lines and AECOM offices in California.

Ms. Stegon began her career as a structural engineer and then progressed to a senior program and design manager role. Carolyn has provided services including budget development and tracking, marketing, schematic design, design development, construction documentation, design review, quality assurance, construction management and project close-out. Her responsibilities as a design manager have included reviewing and tracking the design team’s contracts, scopes of work, work authorizations and invoices and managing the A/E team through design.

Tell us about what inspired you to join the industry.

When I was in high school, I took part in AutoCAD drafting classes. This really interested me and I thought I wanted to be an architect. My high school professor saw my math and science skills directing me toward engineering. Once I entered college, Civil Engineering was a great fit. In my junior and senior years of college, I became interested in earthquake design and wondered, “How do buildings stand up during a major earthquake?” This led me to a summer internship at the University of California, Irvine, for the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research under the National Science Foundation.

Building wood shear walls and pouring concrete foundations that would be tested on earthquake shake tables was a dream come true. After college, I moved from Virginia to California and started a job as a structural engineer for AECOM. I have been with the company for more than two decades and I consider it a dream career.

What is your favorite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why?

My work on the CDCR program is a significant milestone in my career. I was appointed AECOM’s program director of CDCR’s CIP. AECOM, in a joint venture, provided professional services assisting CDCR in planning, designing, constructing, expanding and renovating correctional facilities across California to meet the needs of the correctional community, its families and the state. The program encompassed the Health Care Facility Improvement Program, in-fill projects and capital outlay projects.

I assisted in legislative budget packages for the Department of Funding Approval, provided CDCR specification updates, completed digital design reviews for all new and rehabilitation projects and led staff augmentations. By digitizing plan reviews, multiple reviews were conducted per week and easily managed through a streamlined process, creating a 75 percent reduction in cost associated with eliminating printing and shipping with parallel reviews in real time. There was also a 50 percent reduction in the design review schedules once moved to digital, with a maximum review duration per milestone of two weeks.

Throughout the program, going digital assisted greatly with streamlining processes and navigating any challenges. My team took full advantage of every aspect of AECOM’s technical expertise, cross-collaborating with Program and Project Management, Buildings + Places, Water and Environment business lines. Providing digital plan review services included bringing more than 25 licensed architects, engineers and specialty in-house technical reviewers to the team. All technical reviewers received consistent training and a framework to comment and back-check the subsequent submittals minimizing re-work and saving time. Our digital team wrote procedures, trained the technical reviewers, provided technical support and monitored quality in the review sessions.

Knowledge of the state process with all applicable Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) made the program successful. Understanding Chapter A of the California Building Code requirements and having OSPHD and DSA experience during our design and technical review helped identify key requirements and streamline the approval process.

To me, nurturing relationships with clients and teaming partners while building trust and collaboration within my direct team is paramount. The program highlights AECOM’s value, innovation and capability to provide various services and industry-leading experts on a diverse and complex program, including niche services like acoustical studies, asbestos/lead reports, stormwater pollution prevention plans, specification writing, fire alarm budget packages, implementation and training.

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community.

Over the years, I have had the ability to design and construct key structures within the U.S., including schools, correction facilities, courthouses, air traffic control towers, aircraft hangers and many more. When working with the California Department of Corrections program, I worked on projects that added healthcare facilities to institutions across the state of California. These buildings evolve and improve the communities and people that use them.

Share a piece of career advice.

The architecture, engineering, and construction industry is so in-depth, and it is hard to know and be confident in all aspects. Over the course of my career, I have worked to stay consistently positive and “Give it a go!”

My advice is to be open to learning and trying new things, reach out to trusted colleagues and learn as much as possible. A major point I’ve learned in my career is that transparency and an optimistic outlook to resolve problems promote positive team morale, and as a team, all things are possible.

Carolyn Stegon

Originally published Jul 26, 2023

Author: Carolyn Stegon

Carolyn is a senior program and design manager from our U.S. West region.