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Building Bridges

Building BridgesIn charge of constructing the New Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Tufts graduate Manuel Rondón has both the artistry and managerial skills to close the gap. Tacoma, Wash.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.25.03] The First Tacoma Narrows Bridge - built in 1940 to connect the city of Tacoma with the Olympic peninsula - collapsed after 4 months. Ten years later, the city built the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Now, due to expanded needs, Tacoma is building a third Tacoma Narrows - and entrusting a Tufts graduate to oversee the project.

"There's no room for error," Manuel Rondón told the Tacoma News Tribune.

The Tufts graduate is in charge of building the longest suspension bridge built in the United States in 40 years - across a channel infamous for high winds and tidal currents. The estimated cost of the project, which began construction last month, is $849 million dollars.

While this is his first project in the U.S., Rondón - originally from Venezuela - is a seasoned project manager. He recently oversaw the addition of a second deck to the bridge over the Tagus River in Lisbon, Portugal - the longest suspension bridge in Europe.

Like his bridges, Rondón's career has spanned from one extreme to the other. Born and raised in Caracas to working class parents, Rondón was awarded a government scholarship created to send top students to study abroad, enabling him to attend Tufts.

"That was the turning point in my life," he told the Tribune.

After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering, Rondón returning to Venezuela for his first job at an Exxon subsidiary company. Initially, he was disappointed with his earliest assignment: managing the installation of a lighting system.

"Are you kidding?" he remembered thinking. "I graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University. I have a master's degree, and you want me to do this?"

But despite his original dismay, Rondón says that his first job turned out to be a positive experience.

"That is where my passion for projects started," he told the Tribune. "It gave me a taste of the things to come. [I learned that] it is better to be the head of the mouse than the tail of the lion."

Now Rondón has made a name for himself as a manager who can coordinate and lead a talented construction team.

"It's not something you learn," he told the newspaper. "It's like an art. You have to be ahead of things."

The Tufts graduate - who downplays his personal role in his projects - told the Tribune that choosing talented people and entrusting them with the responsibility to do their jobs well is the key to running a successful team.

"The most important thing is people," he said. "Building this bridge is not about the cable. It's not about the deck. It's about encouraging people, inspiring people."

And it probably doesn't hurt to have a manager who views bridges as a work of art. Rondón told the Tribune that he thinks suspension bridges are magical in their grace and simplicity.

"[Bridges] are very elegant," he told the newspaper. "I can talk about this for days."

 

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