Project Manager Oversees Construction, Cares for the Seriously Ill

Rosann Sillasen examines laminate flooring before installing it in the 200 Church Street house for students.
Posted 07/13/05
Roseann Sillasen knows how to take care of a bowing floor or sagging ceiling. She’s also pretty good at helping treat pneumonia, intestinal bleeding and other major ailments.

Sillasen, the associate director and project manager of Wesleyan’s Construction Services, is also a practicing registered nurse. The full-time project manager and part-time nurse says the two occupations are a perfect match.

“Both careers involve working with people and critical thinking,” she says. “They create a balance.”

Not that balance equals easy. Being that this is July, Sillasen is mid-way through a hectic schedule of projects. Most of these need to be completed by the third week in August – the week students begin to return to campus.

“There are lots of projects that we need to get done while the students are on summer break,” she says, examining new floor laminate for the 200 Church Street freshman residence hall.

Along with the renovations at 200 Church, Sillasen’s to-do list for the summer includes repairs to Science Center classroom 339; the Center for the Art’s Jones Room renovation, art workshop cabinetry, exterior lighting and cinema lighting; the Davison Art Center’s and Center for African American Studies Americans with Disabilities entrance ramps, Olin Library’s interior and exterior painting and elevator modernization; the Van Vleck Observatory’s interior dome painting; Shanklin Labaratory’s window replacement; Foss Hill’s steam manhole maintenance; and the William Street Highrise exterior renovation.

Her most time consuming project is managing the renovation of the Center for the Arts Art Workshop. Construction Services is morphing the first floor into a technology hub for the CFA. Ultimately, the hub will house a digital classroom, media lab, editing rooms and a new drawing studio.

Barbara Spalding, project manager of Construction Services, says her co-worker possesses a wide range of technical knowledge on every aspect of construction. Spalding says Sillasen has the ability to talk to senior staff, coworkers, architects, engineers and contractors — and get her message across.

“She is the original multi-tasker, which you have to be to be a good project manager, and she really loves what she does,” Spalding says. “I have no idea how she does it, but she does more work than is humanly possible. She is super organized, has a mind like a steel trap, and has endless energy.”

A typical summer day begins at 7 a.m., when Sillasen visits each construction zone, unlocking doors and overlooking each work site.

Later, she stops by her office at 186 College Street to check voice and e-mails, review schematics, respond to priority calls, develop bid documents for new projects and attend project meetings.

“In Construction Services, we are mindful stewards in the management of new construction, renovation and major maintenance of buildings and infrastructure on campus,” she says. “We work with clients to address their need and incorporate them as best as possible into projects.”

While her attention to construction projects consumes her work week, every other weekend she focuses on people with serious medical conditions.

Sillasen works two weekends a month at the John Dempsey Hospital, part of the University of Connecticut’s Health Center in Farmington. She works on a floor with eight monitored cardiac beds and helps those suffering from pneumonia, intestinal bleeding, immunosuppressed conditions, cardiac monitoring, stroke, renal failure, peritoneal dialysis and end of life care.

”Nursing is both rewarding and challenging,” she says. “I am a part of my patients’ lives at a time that is extremely difficult for them, providing comfort, support and advocacy. It’s not just medical care that makes them feel better, it’s the personal attention and care I give them.”

It is Sillasens fifth year in nursing.

Joyce Topshe, assistant vice president for Facilities, worked with Sillasen 13 years ago at the University of Connecticut Health Center. When the position opened at Wesleyan, Topshe persuaded Sillasen to apply. Sillasen came to Wesleyan in 2001 as the associate director in construction services for renovation and new construction projects

“Roseann’s work ethic is second to none, and I am so glad to have her here at Wesleyan,” Topshe says. “She is incredibly talented, motivated and reliable. She is doing a tremendous job leading our major maintenance program and a variety of other key projects.”

Sillasen learned the construction trade after gaining hands-on experience at an architect’s office as an administrative assistant in 1984. There, she was involved in the coordination of all phases of the construction process from negotiating contract fees with civil, mechanical and electrical consultants, to approving site plans. She learned how to prepare condominium and bid documents, calculate building square footage, review shop drawings and attended several site meetings.

At Wesleyan, she’s involved in many of the same processes.

“I’m never bored,” she says. “I enjoy working in construction. Everyday you have the opportunity to learn a new approach to an issue that may arise in the field.”

Sillasen says she never feels awkward working in what once was a male-dominated field. She works among several women in the construction field including Joyce Topshe, assistant vice president for facilities; Stacy Baldwin, construction project assistant; Barbara Spalding, associate director of construction services and project manager; Brandi Hood, senior project coordinator; Bev Hugee, facilities manager for student life facilities; Amy Regan, a maintenance and repair mechanic; and Kim Krueger, a painter.

Alena Staron, Joyce Heidorn, and Abby Chaplin support the physical plant offices. And budget accounting and finance coordinator Claire Schukoske, customer service manager Chris Cruz and department assistant Donna Steinback ensure all work orders are processed.

“Women in the field have become more common. You get what you give,” she says. “I am treated professionally and with respect. I have high expectations that are reasonable and the people I work with know I expect them to be met.”

She also sets high expectations for herself. Although she juggles two jobs, Sillasen makes time to continue her education through Wesleyan’s Graduate Liberal Studies Program.

She’s four classes short of the degree.

“Learning is a life long process,” says Sillasen. “When you stop learning, you stop growing.”

Sillasen also is an avid volunteer. As an Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) mentor, she works with high school students in Hartford to expose them to the inner workings of these fields. She also is the treasurer of the Connecticut Nurses Association, a member of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and a member of the building committee for the Northern Middlesex Habitat for Humanity, leading a crew for the Habitat Whittier House in East Hampton last year.

In addition, she’s a member of her alumni association and assists with its newsletter. She’s also a member of the Oncology Nursing Society, the American Cancer Society Power Over Pain, Iota Upsilon Chapter Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing and the Alpha Chi Honor Society.

And with any time left, Sillasen enjoys bird watching, watching science fiction movies and spending time with her husband, John, and her three grown children and four grandchildren between the ages of 12- and 15-weeks-old.

“I really do enjoy being busy,” she says, grinning.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor