Dan Christiansen had a job lined up for when he finished his construction science degree at the University of Oklahoma, but a chance conversation changed his trajectory.
During his senior year, Dan met with Freese and Nichols Program Manager Jeff Hammond (father of one of Dan’s OU classmates) about helping find new tenants for Jeff’s rental property in Norman. That led to a construction management internship on the $1.6 billion Bois d’Arc Lake program, a sprawling new water supply program for a growing area served by the North Texas Municipal Water District. Freese and Nichols has played key roles in designing major facilities for the program and is managing its five construction packages. Jeff was Lake Facilities Program Manager, overseeing a Lake Operations Center, bunkhouse and boat ramps being built for the lake.
Though the company in 2019 was looking for a young construction manager right out of college to assist Bois d’Arc Lake Program Construction Manager Adam Payne, the position for Dan was structured as a three-month internship while he completed degree requirements. The job then transitioned to a full-time position that has developed in ways Dan didn’t imagine when he started.
Dan has gotten involved in each component of the program to some degree, including the dam, pump stations, pipelines, operations and maintenance buildings and other facilities. He also obtained a federal drone pilot’s license and has developed a vital service for the District to track progress: He provides a broad array of photos and helps produce videos that have become integral to project update reports, presentations for the NTMWD Board of Directors, public relations purposes and much more.
His work has been valuable and well-received by NTMWD, and the next major reservoir being built in Texas also is using Dan’s drone services. Upper Trinity Regional Water District requested that periodic drone flights similar to those used on Bois d’Arc Lake be included in Freese and Nichols’ construction phase services contract for the project.
What does your job involve?
I was brought on as an assistant to Program Construction Manager Adam Payne, and I get to touch each project on the lake and also see it from a broad perspective. When I started as an intern, I shadowed inspectors and construction managers, went to meetings and learned what the client needed. It was a good crash course and learning experience.
At that time, Freese and Nichols’ drone program was expanding, so this was a big opportunity for us to collect drone footage. It started with providing construction progress photos and updates, basically taking shots from the same locations each month to show the changes.
Then I started collecting more footage for public relations videos and presentations to the board and public. This gave the client more opportunity to have eyes all over the field. The drone photos also are used for multiple purposes, including to help with inspections, explain change order requests and let project leaders quickly check if tasks have been completed. We also can create 2D and 3D models of the site and then overlay the models with the construction drawings to make sure the plans are being followed.
In my construction management role, I help with program-level tasks: Request for Information/submittal review, document control, inspections, handling questions or conflicts, acting as a link between the construction manager at risk (the construction contractor) and the client. I also do quality assurance, log the inspectors’ daily construction reports, handle coordination of any unforeseen conflicts and make sure facilities are being built according to the plans.
My job is probably about 15% program-level tasks, 25% drones and 60% construction management. I spend about a third of my time outside on-site and have a lot of work to complete on my laptop.
How did you get into the engineering industry?
Growing up, I thought I would be an architect. I enjoy graphic design, and the idea of being able to design buildings interested me. While researching a paper about my possible career path during my sophomore year of high school, I discovered I wanted to be involved on the construction management side. In college, I liked majoring in construction science because it helps you see the questions before they get asked and it changed my entire perspective on how I look at a building, home, bridge, really any construction. I leaned toward the construction side, working for a contractor. But now I can say it has been a lot more enjoyable being a consultant working on the client side.
What do you find rewarding about your work?
Every day brings a new task or challenge. Although those unexpected challenges can sometimes disrupt my entire plan for that day or week, it is rewarding to collaborate and reach a solution. It is also rewarding to take a step back and reflect on growth, whether it’s the progress of the project since I started, self-growth in my knowledge and experience, growth as a team or growth of the company.
What’s your favorite part about working at Freese and Nichols?
The people I work with and the way they treat you. I can confidently say that I have gotten along with everybody I have worked with so far at Freese and Nichols and that it is a joy working with them. The people around me are what get me through even the most stressful days. Freese and Nichols values their employees.
What’s your advice to young professionals?
Get out into the field. Be a sponge by absorbing all the knowledge you can from people who’ve been at it longer. Ask as many questions as possible. Lastly, don’t be overwhelmed or afraid of taking on a challenge. At the end of the day, it is better to put your energy into finding the solution rather than worrying or complaining about the challenge in front of you.
What do you do for fun?
I like hanging with friends, going to concerts and sporting events. I like all kinds of music but enjoy EDM the most. RÜFÜS DU SOL is one of my favorites that I got to see at both the Austin City Limits music festival and in Dallas. Being from Oklahoma, I cheer for OU football and basketball and the OKC Thunder. I live in Dallas, and Stars hockey games are one of my favorite events to attend. I’m also a fan of the Las Vegas Raiders and Baltimore Ravens. I became friends with Ravens tight end Mark Andrews in college and got to attend a Sunday Night Football game in Baltimore against New England during Tom Brady’s last year with the Patriots.
I have a pretty big family in Oklahoma, with a brother and seven cousins, so I try to make trips back to Oklahoma when I can. I currently live about 95 miles from the Bois d’Arc Lake site, so I drive a lot to be on-site.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I was born partially deaf because of severe fluid buildup in my ears and needed surgery to insert tubes. The doctor described my hearing as if I was sitting at the bottom of a 10-foot-deep swimming pool and the person trying to talk to me was standing on the ledge of the pool. The lack of hearing through those years impacted my ability to speak clearly, so after the surgery I started going to a speech pathologist and was slowly able to develop my speech. My friends often find it hard to believe that there was a time when I was unable to speak. Legend has it that I haven’t been able to stop talking since.