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A conversation with our Co-op, Tamara Nikotina: Her View from the Construction Site

October 2022

Northstar believes in mentoring and fostering the next generation of talent who are interested in a career in the project management field. As part of our co-op program, we partner with Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute of Technology, and CREST (Commercial Real Estate Success Training), to identify candidates.

In this session, we welcomed Tamara (Toma) Nikotina, a 5th-year civil engineering and architectural studies student from Northeastern University to the team. We sat down with Toma to get her take on what she has been up to the past six months working with our Northstar team.  

Tell us a little about your background.   

I came to the United States from Russia seven years ago as part of an exchange program to learn English. I was placed with a family in Tennessee and had no idea I would stay in the country for this long. At first, I was only going to be here for a short time while I learned English, but I ended up staying on to attend high school and eventually attending college. Today I am a 5th-year Civil Engineering and Architecture Studies student at Northeastern University, where I will graduate in May 2023. My previous internship was at SGH as a structural engineer, and over the last year, I have been leading the Architectural subgroup for Northeastern’s Solar Decathlon club. The Northstar opportunity jumped out at me because they offered a large range of responsibilities for a co-op position. I wanted to do something more interdisciplinary than just engineering or architecture.

How would you describe your internship experience at Northstar to others?

I would describe my co-op at Northstar as an office sitcom. As different situations occur during the construction process, a “continuing cast of characters” (Merriam Webster’s definition for “sitcom”) works to resolve any occurring issues, which are sometimes hilariously ridiculous but sometimes terrifyingly serious. Our team is exposed to a wide range of professionals, talking to anyone from people working in the field, to vendors, to end users of the buildings.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned with your co-op at Northstar? 

The most common lesson that overlaps all projects is the importance of building relationships with everyone on the project and beyond. Being inclusive on-site and in the office and finding a common language with engineers, architects, and contractors can go a long way to completing a job.

What was the most rewarding thing about working with the Northstar team?

The best thing about the Northstar team is all the laughs and friendships in the office that make the day fun! My co-op has been a very special experience made possible because of the people working at Northstar. 

What new skills and knowledge did you gain through your Northstar co-op?

Northstar has given me the opportunity to work on multiple teams, which has given me exposure to a wide range of projects with the scale of development as well as different phases in the project’s construction cycle. Understanding how the process works, from design development to punch list and closeout, is helpful for anyone who wants to work in the construction industry, even if you want to work as an engineer or an architect afterward. I can also fill the gaps in my MEP knowledge of the buildings. Thanks to Andrew Pace for his willingness to explain how it works. Budgeting, CCDs, CDs, PCOs, Cos, RFIs, and submittals. Thanks, Dan Landry, for answering my sometimes-repetitive questions every time. Thank you to Danica Woo for giving me the responsibility to begin a restoration project with her for Harvard University, introducing me to the architects, and allowing me to work on an RFP process. I am also very grateful to everyone at Northstar who continues to support me during my co-op.

What career path are you looking to get into and why?

So far, I am exploring different career paths, and I’m resonating with what I am doing at Northstar. I am considering going into project management, real estate development, or investing. One day I would like to start my own company, but before I do that, I still have to figure out what I do best and what gaps in the industry need to be filled. 

How would you describe the Northstar culture?

The Northstar culture is much less structured than where I worked before, which was scary at the beginning, but now I see that this gives much more flexibility in the work environment. Every employee is approached individually to be part of a project, and every project manager works with more senior staff members who act as mentors while leaving room for personal growth. But I think my favorite part about working at Northstar is how many women work here in leadership positions. It is very inspiring to see them lead and operate project teams so well and see the respect they garner in this historically male-dominated industry.