From internship to impact: An Autodesk researcher’s story of driving change in the construction industry

5 min read

I’m a Circular Economy and Construction Researcher on the architecture, construction, and engineering (AEC) Industry Futures team at Autodesk. In my role, I collaborate on research on both theoretical and applied topics related to the AEC industry, which includes developing new technologies and practices to improve the construction industry and working with customers and industry professionals to implement our research findings. I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary as an employee, and it’s been an amazing experience!

My journey to Autodesk

Growing up, I was pretty much a tinkerer — I’ve always been interested in making things. My dad is an architect, so I often found myself in his office or visiting construction sites after school. This developed my interest in buildings and how they’re constructed. I thought I would go to school for architecture, but while applying for undergraduate programs, I was placed in the building construction program. When I was applying for grad school, I thought it would be good to follow that same path, and I applied to the construction management program at the University of Florida. Being Nigerian and African, my goal going into grad school was to research affordable housing in Sub-Saharan Africa. I continued with that until the last semester of my program, when I took a BIM class. It was game-changing to me; it was so easy to use, intuitive, and collaborative.

It was my experience with this software that really disrupted things for me in a positive way. As a result, in the last semester of my master’s, I shifted my focus from affordable housing to construction technology. That encouraged me to get a Ph.D. with a specialization in advanced construction technologies. During my studies, I was the teaching assistant for the BIM class I took, so I ended up teaching products from Autodesk Construction Cloud and developed a great relationship with the Autodesk Education Experiences (AEX) team. They really helped me be successful in teaching that course; furthermore, it was through this team that I learned about internships with Autodesk.

I joined Autodesk as a construction management intern in the summer of 2018, where I worked on market research with the AEX team to explore the expansion of Autodesk offerings across construction management programs in the United States. During my internship, I helped the team put together a curriculum for BIM 360 in construction management programs. After graduating from college and working as an assistant professor for a brief period, I saw a job posting for a full-time construction researcher role at Autodesk and decided to go for it. I believe being a former intern was a plus, and I’ve always managed to stay close to the people I worked with during my internship – they were huge supporters of my career. Now, I’m fortunate to be working alongside them again. As I reflect one year later, it really feels like I’ve come full circle!

Building a sustainable future

I’m currently researching new approaches to building materials, supply chains, construction waste streams, and economic models related to the circular economy in construction. The construction industry generates a lot of waste, with construction and demolition creating more than 600 million tons of waste debris annually in the U.S. alone — that’s twice as much as the municipal waste collected from homes and businesses in cities! A circular economy offers the single most significant opportunity for radical climate action in construction, which could deliver a 40-60 percent reduction in embodied emissions.

One of the most exciting things I’ve worked on so far was the Dar bridge project, where we imagined what it would take for a robot to 3D print its own infrastructure without any human input. What I was most excited about — which was also the most challenging aspect — was the ability to 3D print something like that to scale. Prior to the bridge, the biggest thing I personally 3D printed was a tabletop-type artifact. 3D prints of a five-meter bridge just blew my mind; first, because it’s a full-size pedestrian bridge, and second, because we used recycled material. We really looked at the environmental aspect — it’s exciting working with a team that is dedicated to not just innovation, but also sustainability. Working with a company like Dar, which is very innovative and trying to optimize processes for building infrastructure while also finding more sustainable ways of doing it, was really cool.

5m Dar Smart Bridge at Autodesk University 2022

Construction as a career for all

The journey to this point in my career has had its highs and lows. Early on, I developed the mindset that I must work twice as hard as my male counterparts for my achievements to count. Of all the people working in construction, women comprise only 10.9%. Even smaller is the number of women on the front lines of a job site: only 1 woman for every 100 employees in the field. However, the number of women in construction is rising, and we’re fortunate to have a lot of incredible leaders in the industry now who are paving the way for women and girls. I’d like to follow in their footsteps.

Outside of my full-time job, I’m also involved in educational outreach with pre-college and college students, where we encourage them to explore construction as a career choice and show them the different career paths that are available. I’ve been fortunate to share a lot of my experience in construction, along with the journey that’s got me to where I am today. I had very few students of color when I was a professor in construction, so I know it’s inspiring for students to see someone who looks like them and can advocate for them. Representation matters!

Looking back on my first year at Autodesk, my favorite part has been the people I’ve worked with and the conversations I’ve had – just being surrounded by brilliance and being part of such innovative research. I’m so impressed by the great work everyone has done in their career, and what they continue to do. Not everyone does what we do, and it’s great to be able to find industry professionals, partners, and customers who are willing to take risks and go along on this journey of innovation with us.

Speaking with pre-college students about Autodesk and STEM careers at Junior Achievement of Greater Boston’s inaugural “JA Inspire” event

Learn more about Autodesk Research here.