From Indoor Surfing to Facility Management

Catherine Bisson on a roof overlooking the city skyline

Catherine Bisson uprooted her life and career to pursue a second master's degree at Georgia Tech's School of Building Construction. When someone resigns from a job, packs up their life, and moves to a brand-new city to chase a dream, there can be no room for uncertainty, she said.

Bisson's certainty sprang from her love of facility management as a career. Driven by this passion, she subjected graduate programs to intense scrutiny until she was confident she'd found the right one.

While Georgia Tech's reputation as a top research institute certainly held sway for her, Bisson paid more attention to industry ties. Only a handful of programs in the country are as well-regarded and well-connected, and even fewer in cities with such large International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) chapters, she said.

In addition to industry ties, she was impressed to discover that the faculty are also personally engaged with student study and research. That sort of individually tailored attention and interest is very hard to find, and it is what completely sealed the deal for me.

She also sought to expand her job opportunities. As a professional transitioning from sport management to operations and facilities management, she knew a graduate degree could help her blaze a new career path.

I think a graduate degree can be the conduit that propels you forward, and in my mind, the return of job satisfaction and eventual tenure in a role you love is absolutely worth the investment.

I wanted challenge, encouragement, and a degree from a world-renowned institution, she said. Once I made the decision to head back to school, choosing to join the Building Construction program at Georgia Tech was a no-brainer.

Taking the Next Step

Catherine Bisson standing next to School of Building Construction sign

Facilities management wasn’t always Bisson’s idea of the perfect career. Her undergraduate and first graduate degrees were in sport management—but an undergraduate project to design an indoor surfing facility got me completely hooked on facility management and design, she said.

As a sophomore in a senior-level class, she was already pursuing an ambitious course. She even developed an extra operations plan to complement the required budget and staffing plan for the indoor surfing facility. She still remembers the excitement and absolute fun of that project.

Professionally she said, the experience that really solidified my love of facility management came through my Operations Director role at Calvary Women’s Services.

As the Operations Director, Bisson joined design, layout, materials, and operations discussions surrounding their renovation of and move to a new building. She coordinated the move of both equipment and people, and says, I absolutely loved the entire experience.

Over the next five-and-a-half years, her close knowledge of the building’s design and operations allowed her to offer strong leadership to maintenance, operations, and capital planning.

Data-driven Design

Catherine Bisson reviewing a building diagram

As part of the College of Design, the School of Building Construction's unique, design-based curriculum aligns with Bisson’s experience and perspective in the field.

Majors in all five of the College's Schools share requirements that the roughest of plans and designs be computerized, manipulated, studied, expanded, vetted, and then finally brought to life. And these pieces must all fit together to create a unique product for the end user, she said.

In the field, this view of design gives a broader perspective of the incredible coordination necessary for construction projects.

I don’t think people realize how much goes on behind the scenes of each project, regardless of size. All they see is a hole in the ground, or a crane moving materials, she said.

For Bisson, construction is detailed work completed by so many talented tradesmen, orchestrated by a contractor, and driven by a project manager.

Every piece of the puzzle is so important to the end product, and it a is a lot to keep track of, she said. She wasn't surprised to find that the design, implementation, and operation of her school projects must all fit together to create a unique, end user-focused product.

Surprised by Atlanta

Catherine Bisson and Poppy sitting on a bench

Bisson originally planned to move to Atlanta only for the short time she would be in school. But Atlanta surprised her.

The city is growing rapidly, and those that are moving here are educated and driven young professionals, Bisson said. It is a smart town.

Atlanta is a seriously underestimated city.

The city's growth provides several benefits for Building Construction student, Bisson said. Staff connections to industry mean that internships and professional networking opportunities are readily available.

It was an internship with Derucki Construction, a local general contractor, that helped Bisson consider program management as a future career. It's a path she would never have explored or discovered without this boots-on-the-ground experience.

Bisson says she has very much enjoyed her time in Atlanta, learning more about the city’s history, art and music movements, and food culture. She explores local parks with her 6-year-old rescue dog. Atlanta might be home for the next handful of years, she said.

When all is said and done, I will have spent 18 months being challenged by professors and classmates not only to learn about the industry, but also to be an active advocate for the industry and the Institute.

Even more important than the degree she'll earn in May is the networking that came through the program, she said. I’ve seen first-hand how actively alumni stay involved, and how badly they want to help current students—it is an infectious passion they share to propel us all forward.

I’m looking forward to joining their ranks, she said.