Alumni Spotlight: Jonathan Hornak

August 27, 2013
I AM UAA: Jonathon Hornak

I AM UAA: Jonathan Hornak

B.S. Construction Management ’09
Anchorage, AK
Fun Fact: Started out on a pre-med track.

Drafting the blueprints

When Jonathan Hornak graduated from UAA’s Construction Management (CM) Program in 2009, there were only six students in his graduating class—including himself. At a university with lecture halls built to hold hundreds of students, Jonathan’s experience was unique. Since graduating from UAA’s CM program just four years ago, Jonathan has worked his way up the corporate ladder at local contracting company, Cornerstone General Contractors Inc. He was also recently named vice-chair on UAA’s CM advisory board, returned to his alma mater as an adjunct professor, began taking MBA courses at UAA and purchased his first home. It seems this successful 20-something, CM alum has got life figured out, but the plans weren’t always so clear.

It turns out construction wasn’t Jonathan’s first choice—or even his second.

“I was basically pre-med for two years,” says Jonathan. “I was at Oregon State on academic scholarship and played club soccer down there and having a good time, but it just wasn’t going to work out. About two years into pre-med I figured out I couldn’t do med school because I couldn’t stand up.”

He means that literally. A medical condition required ankle surgeries, making it impossible for him to stand for long periods of time and quickly erased his dream of medical school. Jonathan found himself at a crossroads, forced to reevaluate his education and career goals.

“That was a hard time—mentally that wasn’t what I had in mind for my whole life,” Jonathan says.  “I was always about good grades; I wanted to get an academic scholarship somewhere or soccer scholarship, and I had the opportunities for both. My goal was to get into med school and become a doctor so changing over was a big shock to me mentally—it just wasn’t what I had prepared for.”

When life gives you lemons…

But Jonathan found a silver lining after applying to architecture school—his second career choice—and was accepted to the University of Washington. He’d come home for the summer and was preparing to head down to UW for the fall semester to begin architecture school when a conversation with a close friend led to a life-changing discovery.

“I was talking with a good friend and he started telling me about the CM program at UAA and I realized that I didn’t want to only draw up the buildings—I wanted to build things too,” Jonathan says.

Construction was a career path he’d never considered, but the more he looked into it, the more excited he was. He realized UAA’s CM program couldn’t be a more perfect fit. He signed up for the fall semester and dove in head first, loading his schedule with 18 plus credits. He helped start the CM club at UAA with a fellow CM classmate and continued carrying the torch to ensure the club’s success after his partner graduated.

Burning the candle at both ends

As Jonathan continued through his undergrad, he stacked his plate high. His junior and senior year he interned with Cornerstone, worked retail at REI seven days a week and was a full-time student. He felt it was important to be an active and involved student and not just shuffle his way through college. His hard work and dedication paid off, although it did come with a price—long hours, with little rest.

“I was doing work for seven days a week and school five days a week, and it was getting to the point where I was burning myself out really bad,” Jonathan says.

He admits he may have spread himself thin while in school, but says he’s happiest when he’s busy and that for all the late nights and early mornings he was glad to finish in three and a half years. Plus, his work creating and continuing the CM Club earned him recognition within the construction industry, giving him an edge over other graduates vying for jobs.

“When I graduated, I had five or six standing offers because the program was so small, and I was so well known in the program,” Jonathan says, explaining that despite all the tempting offers from bigger companies he decided to stick with CGC. “Cornerstone definitely wasn’t the most money, but it was the best company and they had given me the opportunity to succeed already, letting me work for them two years before. I don’t think that I could’ve made a better choice.”

The silver lining

These days, Jonathan spends his time juggling his roles managing projects for CGC, running to CM Advisory Board meetings, preparing for the cost estimating class he teaches every semester, attending MBA courses at UAA and, in whatever free time he has left, working on his new house. As a professional in the field and an adjunct teacher, he appreciates his professors a little bit more now and heeds the advice they gave him as a student.

“They always told us to never stop learning and you’re always going to be wrong at something—you can’t have a big ego in this industry,” Jonathan says laughing, explaining you have to grow a thick skin in construction, and that there’s been a time or two he’s been yelled at. “Even if you’re right, it might seem wrong to someone else and they will disagree with you, it’s just part of the industry.

He adds that his professors advised him and his classmates not to throw out their CM books and even though it’s been a few years since graduation, he still references his books and coursework binders, which are lined up on a bookshelf at his house.

In the last four years Jonathan’s come a long way. His life and career might have diverted drastically from the path he’d originally set for himself, but looking back he realizes everything’s turned out exactly how it was supposed to—and a physical obstacle that seemed like an unfair twist of fate actually turned out be a blessing in disguise.

“My parents always taught me that everything happens for a reason, that it may not be clear at the time, but it will be clear eventually,” Jonathan says. “Having that change and not knowing what was going to happen put me through some rough times—but I was able to get through it and it all turned out great.”

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