A natural born leader drives it home

by Nyla Hallum on July 24, 2014 · 10:00 am

Michael Haagen

When Michael returned to school to attain the qualifications to be the construction manager he wanted to be, the work was tough and for a time he doubted himself. But not for long.

Michael Haagen realized that after 16-years as a service technician in the construction business, the part of his job that really excited him was when he actually got to help manage projects. He knew he had to do something to make team leadership his full-time responsibility, and he figured it would take a degree for an employer see him in that role.

He did some research and found that only SJVC offered a 2-year degree Construction Management program that met his expectations. “There are certain areas that you know you have to get better at, and SJVC filled all the gaps for me,” he says. He felt it was a bonus that “many of the instructors are actually working professionals in the trade.”

With the support of his wife, Bennie, Michael enrolled in the CM program…and almost immediately realized he was in over his head.

“I did not pick up on the fact that it was an accelerated program,” says Michael. “It was very stringent and there was a time when I was seriously thinking of dropping out.”

It was not so much that he was struggling academically – Michael maintained a 4.0 GPA and a steady presence on the Dean’s List. He was working full-time, juggling classes and homework, and trying to be the kind of husband he wanted to be, and not finding the balance he needed to keep it all going.

“I had to step back, breathe and regroup,” he admits. “You have to be honest with yourself and accept that you’ve made the decision and it will take what it takes. Give yourself breaks, get your mind off the academics and find a new source of energy.”

Michael reached out for a little support. A tutor helped him through a particularly rough stretch of math, his employer let him take an occasional day off to catch up on his assignments and Bennie understood his struggle completely.

“My wife was extremely supportive and behind me 100%,” says Michael. “Of course we had to get rid of the bird,” he laughs. “Its screeching wouldn’t work with my studies.”  Their Senegal parrot was placed in a home with lots of young parrots to antagonize.

Michael developed a strong study discipline. “It was pretty much nights and weekends,” he says. “You have to make it Priority Number One, right next to the family. Many things had to get put on the back burner…except for golf. That was my release to take my mind off everything, he confesses.”

His newfound balance of work, responsibility and time-out paid off.

“Michael was one of the best and most professional students I worked with,” says Ivan Melchor, Online Career Services Advisor. “His dedication to his education was a true testament to his character, and I hope his story inspires others who are not sure about continuing their education.”

Weeks before Michael graduated from the CM program this July, a large company had its eye on him.

“During conversations with them they told me they believed in my leadership abilities and that when I got my degree it shot me all the way to the top,” says Michael. “That solidified for me my choice to get my degree; it definitely aided in my landing this position.”

Michael is only a couple of weeks into his new position as HVAC-R Team Leader, but all the signs of a right move are there. As part of the management team responsible for profits and losses of the service department, Michael is in his element.

“I hit the ground running, and so far, it’s pretty exciting,” he says. “There are a lot of people interactions, the challenges of bridging gaps in relationships with employees and customer expectations.”

Michael is in the thick of flexing his leadership and communication skills. “A lot of those people skills were definitely learned in that (CM) class,” he notes.

Some of Michael’s own life experience and wisdom come into play, as well. “The success of any project depends on how well it is presented and laid out,” he says. If you fail to communicate properly, the success of any project will also fail.”

Some leaders are born, some are made. Michael is tapping both sources to make this long drive right down the middle of his career choice.

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