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MGAC Impacts: Jacqualynn Karsten on Women in Construction, Overdue Dinner Parties, and Transforming T-Mobile’s HQ


Jacqualynn Karsten in the center of the Central Plaza at T-Mobile’s Headquarters.

The Impact Blog is a spotlight series that highlights and celebrates the diverse employees that make MGAC tick. Beyond their day-to-day schedules, we want to know how they have a greater impact on their colleagues, their company, and the communities in which they live and work. We want to know what makes them get out of bed in the morning, what led them to their current role, and what they hope their lasting impact will be.

Today, we get to know Jacqualynn Karsten, Senior Project Manager at MGAC.

MGAC: Hi Jacqualynn, welcome to the Blog! Tell us what you do at MGAC.

Jacqualynn Karsten (JK): I am a Senior Project Manager in MGAC’s Seattle office. My role right now is a project manager on the T-Mobile Headquarters Renovation in Bellevue, Washington.

MGAC: And how long have you been with MGAC?

JK: A little over two years.

MGAC: So that would include one “normal” year, and one year during the pandemic?

JK: Exactly. Pre-COVID and post-COVID feel like different lives, almost. I think that’s true for many people.

MGAC: Absolutely. So, what attracted you to MGAC?

JK: What drew me to MGAC immediately was their fundamentals. They spoke to me really clearly and I really gravitated toward who MGAC was as an organization.

MGAC: That’s awesome—what a wonderful fit. How’s the T-Mobile HQ Renovation coming?

JK: I just wrapped up on a plaza renovation. It’s a great element of the project because it’s an area that activates the rest of the campus. It brings people together as a space for all-hands meetings, large gatherings, and celebrations. It was also a bit different from the rest of the projects there I’ve worked on. It came with a set of challenges—in particular, a set of existing conditions we inherited that included a 27’ wide x 70’ deep hollow core adjacent to the building where a new building portal, concrete, lighting and landscaping was planned. Not to mention the survey was off which then also affected the majority of elevations and all concrete ramping and benching on the east hill. It speaks to the success of the team and the approach that we could overcome so many complicated design elements, taking the project from where it started to where it ended. We recently just handed it over to the client and are excited to see them start using it.

MGAC: Now that the Plaza Renovation has wrapped, what else is on the front burner?

JK: The other project I’m immersed in is a 10-floor tenant improvement on the T-Mobile campus. The work is broken into four phases between the 10 floors, and each floor is at a different stage of build-out. There’s an element of repetition in the design, so we have been able to anticipate certain problems that may arise as we have worked on the first two floors. It is going extremely well! The team is very cohesive—we’ve worked together on past projects on campus, so it’s turned into a real celebration of all the “lessons learned” to date, and just capitalizing on our cohesion.

MGAC: Nice! Does that mean you’re in the final stages of the Bellevue Renovation?

JK: We’re coming into the home stretch! The majority of the heavy renovation build-out work, including the fourth phase of the 10-floor project will be wrapping up at the end of this year. And we anticipate there will be a few assorted items that carry over into early 2022.

MGAC: What an exciting time! We understand that this project has put a major emphasis on the T-Mobile employee experience?

JK: That’s right. T-Mobile has always put a tremendous amount of focus on their employees and their culture. But until this project, they didn’t bring everything full circle to the physical work environment. It is truly a transformative campus. The bones of the buildings are the same, but everything within the buildings and between has radically changed. It speaks to how serious they are about their employees and their workplace environment going forward.

MGAC: It sounds like a great partnership for MGAC!

JK: Absolutely. When I came on board, the HQ Renovation was already underway. So, there was a partnership already established, and there was true trust. But the heavy lifting, those bigger projects, kicked in after I started. It was really special to be a part of those conversations and hear how they wanted to make this space work for their employees.

MGAC: How ideal. It sounds like you’ve also found a great fit in this role! But is it safe to say this wasn’t always your path? What did you want to be when you grew up?

JK: I haven’t thought about this in a very long time! When I was a kid, I actually wanted to be an archaeologist. And that was because I saw cool TV shows and documentaries where I saw women working and exploring. I loved the idea of finding things that were hidden that you could expose. That really spoke to me.

MGAC: Seeing the visibility of women working in an industry, charting their own path, can be so impactful.

JK: Absolutely. I’ve always liked to take a different path with my personal and professional life. And it didn’t occur to me until many years later that part of what spoke to me about that was seeing a woman do it. These days it resonates a lot more, and I’m trying to do my part to ensure that there’s never just one or two of us in the room.

MGAC: Tell us more about that!

JK: Fortunately, the female population in the industry has grown exponentially since I started 20-plus years ago. I’ve so enjoyed seeing more and more women actively get into this business, specifically on the construction side—folks that walk in the field and wear boots and a hard hat on a regular basis. I love talking to women in the industry and learning about what motivates them, what got them into the industry, and if there is anything I can do to help keep them here.

MGAC: That’s great to hear, and something we are always striving to promote as an organization.

JK: I really appreciate that about MGAC. It wasn’t something I knew intimately before I joined, but it felt really good when we all came together after I started. Seeing our personnel, it’s very diverse—and it’s our future. We’ll be that much further ahead because of what the organization has been implementing.

MGAC: What impact do you hope to have here?

JK: I hope to make a difference on a couple of levels. I want to have successful projects that our clients enjoy and that our leadership is proud we’re a part of. I also want to be a part of making an impact with our local team, borrowing on my experience with T-Mobile. Our MGAC T-Mobile team feels unique, because we’re there full-time in a campus environment. We have become a very cohesive group, and that’s something I’ve come to appreciate. Being able to work with these people has really made a difference in how I look at the work I do, and I hope I have that effect on them as well.

MGAC: What challenges have you been faced with so far?

JK: Navigating the impacts of COVID has certainly been a challenge. It’s affected every aspect of our lives. In terms of work, our project was deemed essential, so construction was allowed to continue. In fact, our efforts actually increased because our client wanted more work to get done when their people were not on campus. So, a lot of what we’ve been doing over the past year has included becoming more aggressive with the work.

MGAC: What have you learned from the experience?

JK: I’ve always loved teamwork. But the depth of the coordination between project partners that needed to take place to make this work has given me an even deeper appreciation for the power of people coming together. Once you prove that something can be done, it shows the client and the industry what can be the new norm. So, what will be interesting is how we might keep up with that going forward, post-pandemic. That will be our next exploration.

MGAC: So true! Taking a step back, how do you hope your work will impact your community at large?

JK: Well, the “community” for me right now is T-Mobile, because we’re on their campus. But there’s a huge impact to be made there nonetheless—there are some 6,000 employees who will work within their Headquarters. I am so excited for them to come back and see the transformation. I think this project will change the way they work. I think it will improve their efficiency and will reaffirm the company’s culture and the importance of inclusiveness, diversity, and open / flexible work environments.

MGAC: Right. And even beyond their employees, this project could inspire others. 

JK: Absolutely. They also have external customers, future partners who come onto their campus. For years to come, this will be a showcase of what they stand for. And that could have a ripple effect in transforming other businesses as well.

MGAC: What at MGAC has made an impact on you?

JK: I would go back to our fundamentals. And I say that because we are not close to our MGAC Headquarters. I’ve found motivation and inspiration going back to those fundamentals and knowing if I’m staying true to those, then I’m doing the right thing by MGAC, and I’m doing the right thing by our clients.

MGAC: When it comes to the job, what gives you energy?

JK: My favorite part about this industry is that we are always learning, and we can always get better. I like that. I’m not perfect. I’d like to think I’m always doing the right thing, but there are always variables and challenges that teach you important lessons. There’s never a point we hit where we don’t need to learn more.

MGAC: So, after a day of encountering—and overcoming—obstacles, what’s your secret to winding down?

JK: Trying to turn it off (emphasis on “trying!”). It’s not natural for me to want to shut down and put my phone away or not check email—frankly, it can even be uncomfortable at times! But I find if I intentionally focus on “me time” and spending time with friends and family, I’m better for it the next day.

MGAC: What about your secret to starting the morning off on the right foot?

JK: I have always been an early riser. For me, the mornings are about getting up and moving. That movement could be exercise; it could be simply walking my dog or getting ready to go to the job site. But it’s about being deliberate, versus being relaxed and of the “I’ll get to it when I get to it” mindset. Getting up with purpose is a great motivator for me.

MGAC: What’s a favorite quote that inspires you?

JK: This one isn’t exactly inspirational in the traditional sense, but it’s inspirational to me personally because of who I want to be in the workplace. “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by those who do not speak.” That quote could be scary or intimidating to certain people! But I look at it like, “Who do I want to be for myself, for my clients, and for the people I work with?” It’s an important reminder to listen to everything.

MGAC: What do you want your lasting impact to be?

JK: I would say professionally, I would relish the idea of leaving an impact that inspired others to continue in this industry and explore it the way I have been afforded the opportunity to.

MGAC: We’ll wrap things up with a few rapid-fire questions—answer with the first response that comes to mind! Sound good?

JK: Sure!

MGAC: Describe your job in 5 words or less.

JK: Conduit between client and team. (If I could sneak another word in, it would be “conductor.”)

MGAC: What’s the first thing you do at work every day?

JK: Call my superintendent to check-in.

MGAC: And the last thing?

JK: I try to look at what I have on my calendar for the next day.

MGAC: What’s the weirdest thing we might find in your desk or work bag?

JK: Ha! This involves a quick story. My client and I were walking one day. A song came on. I said, “Hey, I like this song!” and it turns out it was by Justin Bieber. I’m not exactly a Justin Bieber fan, but you know, I liked the song. Then the next day, I found a life-sized Justin Bieber cutout at my desk!

MGAC: Hysterical! So, it was just sitting around?

JK: Yeah! T-Mobile has all sorts of that stuff throughout their departments. They knew they had this one and decided to put it at my desk. It was so funny and touching to me so I kept it!

MGAC: What’s your go-to weekday lunch?

JK: I’m a big breakfast person, but I often don’t take lunch. My go-to would be whatever is easiest. It could be crackers and fruit, or anything else that is easy to grab and go.

MGAC: What’s the most used app on your phone?

JK: My Sirius XM app. I love all kinds of music, and I go through moods. I could do a month of classic rock, and then I move on to hip hop, jazz, or blues.

MGAC: What’s your biggest work goal for 2021?

JK: Finishing our projects strong and providing a great, appreciative closure to this project for our client.

MGAC: What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?

JK: That I love to entertain. It’s a way that I show friends and family how I care about them. I think most of my coworkers don’t know that, because prior to COVID-19, we were still getting to know each other. And then the pandemic hit!

MGAC: So, you’re due for a dinner party!

JK: You could say that!

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