Tasked with creating a new third-floor study and lounge space as part of Shah Hall’s $1 million renaming and refurbishing project, Facilities Management Senior Project Manager Zach McDonough ’16 asked himself a simple question: “What would I have wanted as a student?”

Fortunately for the civil and environmental engineering alum from Billerica, Massachusetts, his undergraduate days at UML were still fresh in his memory.

“I wanted to build something where I would be happy to sit and relax, and I think we accomplished that,” says McDonough, who joined Facilities Management as a construction project intern midway through college — and was hired as a full-time project coordinator before the ink had time to dry on his degree.

“The stars aligned,” says McDonough, who has quickly climbed the project manager ranks and now oversees major initiatives such as the $20 million infrastructure improvements at Olsen Hall and the $3 million Art + Design 3D studio renovations at Dugan Hall.

McDonough knew he wanted to pursue civil engineering after working for his father’s residential construction company while in high school. He chose UML for its “great value” and the strength of the programs in the Francis College of Engineering.

As a freshman, McDonough landed a job as a shuttle bus driver with Transportation Services. Two years into the job, he was offered a joint summer internship with Transportation and Facilities Management to monitor the construction of the new North Campus bus stop behind Olney Hall.

“I got to apply what I was learning in the classroom and see some of the challenges that go into actually building an abstract idea that you’re talking about on paper,” he says.

Working with Jean Robinson, now associate vice chancellor for facilities management and planning, McDonough learned about everything from the state’s construction bidding process to the steps required to remove a telephone pole.

Since the project was “quite literally what I wanted to do for work,” McDonough continued as an intern with Facilities Management during his final two years of school. Working 22 hours a week, he assisted with the $18 million North Quad pod project and helped enhance the university’s interactive Campus Viewer.

While McDonough originally assumed his civil and environmental engineering degree would take him “all around New England working for engineering firms,” the opportunity with Facilities Management led him to reimagine his plans and explore project management.

“It was a wonderful team to intern, with because they treated me like an adult. They gave me the freedom to learn as I go,” he says. “Without Facilities, I wouldn’t be nearly as good as I am right now.”

McDonough is now paying it forward, serving as a mentor to recently hired assistant project manager Justin Wadsworth ’22, a civil and environmental engineering alum who also used to work for Transportation Services.

“It’s quite surreal to be in that position,” McDonough says. “It wasn’t terribly long ago that I was just starting, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”