Meet Eric Cushman, Slate School’s Senior Project Executive at Gilbane
A college internship changed Eric Cushman’s life. Twelve years ago, as a sophomore at Philadelphia University, Eric accepted an internship at Gilbane Building Company in Glastonbury, Connecticut, one of the largest construction management firms in the country. He fell in love with the construction industry that summer, so much so that he came back and interned with the company again the next summer. Gilbane hired him straight out of college as an office engineer, and he’s never worked anywhere else since.
During a recent visit to Slate School, where Eric serves as a senior project executive, he recalled the first day of that life-changing internship, which involved building a parking garage at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport. “I remember doing my initial walk around the campus,” commented Eric, as he sat on a child-sized chair in a Slate School classroom. “We went to look at the generators on the roof. The generators were the size of this classroom. I remember being awestruck.”
Whether it’s a school, a hospital, or office space, Eric’s pride in delivering clients quality construction projects is immediately evident, as his beaming smile widens almost instantly upon talk of the details of each project. He has an easygoing enthusiasm that is contagious, but his manner is also measured, thoughtful, earnest. He’s one of those people who exudes integrity. “My job is problem-solving, it’s relationships, it’s creative thinking,” added Eric . “I do enjoy building more than buildings. I like being involved in projects that mean something to the community. I like working on unique projects with interesting people.”
At the age of 31, Eric is the youngest senior executive at Gilbane. About five years ago, he started the Special Projects Group, a sort of business within a business that specializes in a variety of smaller and more unique projects, like Slate School. Eric seems to thrive on the challenge each new job brings. “With Slate School, every product for the most part was unique,” he explains. “The windows were custom made in Canada. The slate was from Spain. It was a bit of a nail biter. The schedule was tight, so there was no room for error. We worked with an amazing team of sub-contractors to achieve the next to impossible. We had more than 100 craftspeople on the construction site to get the campus completed on time. No matter what, we were getting those doors open for school the first day. Those were some of the challenges that made this job fun.”
Eric seems completely at home in the Slate School classroom, where he can sometimes be found reading the kids a story about building a house or sharing his plans for constructing a new restaurant. “You won’t find a lot of projects where you finish and then you get to go in and read to the kids and play blocks and give back,” Eric says. “This model of a school building is incredible. It’s one I will never forget. And one I plan to continue to support.”
It’s not surprising that Eric enjoys building blocks with the Slate children. A lifelong love of building led him to originally choose architecture as his major in college, before changing his path to construction management. “As a kid, I played with blocks a lot. I loved building,” he explains. “But in college, the drawing and drafting late into the night wasn’t for me. Architects need to have a level of vision and creativity that really makes them artists. That thought process isn’t really where my brain sits. I’m more engineering, more mathematical. On the construction management side, you’re putting that puzzle together that somebody else created. My job is creative, but in a different way. I move the blocks around.”
College also proved to be life-changing for Eric in another way: it’s where he met the love of his life, Megan. They dated for seven years before getting married in 2013. Megan and Eric are the kind of couple who finish each other’s sentences and laugh the loudest at each other’s jokes. They light up when they talk about their life together. Megan works in marketing and advertising. They live in Glastonbury in a house they bought two years ago and have worked together to renovate. When they’re not working, they enjoy spending time with their family and friends and their adopted mutt, Koa. They also travel as much as they can. This past fall, after the Slate School project wrapped up, they took a long-awaited trip to Ireland.
While working at Gilbane, Eric went back to school and earned an MBA from Quinnipiac University in 2014. For several years, he has also worked with the ACE Mentor Program of America, an organization that inspires high school students to pursue careers in design and construction. “We explain the difference between architecture, construction, and engineering,” says Eric. “I wish I had someone doing that for me when I was 16, 17 years old.”
Eric feels strongly about giving back in whatever way he can. “I have been fortunate to have had all kinds of mentors that I still work with today,” he says. “I’m a sponge. You just have to take the time to watch, listen, and learn. And check the ego. Be as open-minded as possible. I hope I’m true to that.”
With typical humility, Eric attributes his success to the people, values, and mission of Gilbane Building Company, starting all those years ago at that internship in Bridgeport. “My work ethic comes directly from the folks I’ve met and worked with over the last 12 years. The philosophy I learned from those people is pretty simple. You treat people the way you would like to be treated. And the end of the day, you expect from yourself what you expect from others.”
Whether he’s building lifelong work relationships or block towers at Slate School, Eric Cushman believes in taking the time and energy to construct a strong, solid base. “It’s a triangle,” he learned recently, “relationship on the bottom, achievement on top. If you’re able to build solid relationships, you’re able to achieve wonderful things.”