Under the Hard Hat with Emily Sawanobori

May 19, 2023

Emily Sawanobori

At Clark, we are proud to be made up of individuals from a variety of backgrounds and talents. Our “Under the Hard Hat” series is designed to showcase the diverse people who make up the Clark team. We recently sat down with Emily Sawanobori, a preconstruction executive in the Pacific Northwest, to learn about her background and what she enjoys most about working in the construction industry.

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in the Bay Area and moved to the East Coast in high school. I went to Bucknell University, where I studied civil engineering and played volleyball. After I graduated, I started working for Clark. 

My husband and I met at Clark. We now live in Seattle with a two-year-old and another child on the way. I have a tight-knit family and a wonderful group of friends, most of whom live in cities around the country. This makes travel a huge part of my life.

What type of project are you currently working on? What are your responsibilities?

I lead project development in the Pacific Northwest, including estimating, purchasing, and design management efforts and supporting our pursuit teams. I have the opportunity to touch almost every project we pursue, win, and build in some way. 

I am currently working on the Western State Hospital project, which will bring much-needed improvements to the facility and set a new standard of excellence for patients and healthcare workers.

Outside the office, I am part of the Women’s Insight Network (or WIN), Clark’s employee resource group for women in construction. I enjoy creating the best environment for women to work and grow. As a board member, I have coordinated discussion panels of incredible outside speakers and found new connections with my female colleagues.

What brought you to Clark?

I was able to tour several Clark projects in the Washington, DC area while in college. I walked the Inova Women's Hospital and Children's Hospital project from top to bottom and saw each stage of the interior work unfold – it felt like peeling back the layers of a building. Then, I stood at the bottom of the excavation that would become CityCenterDC and looked up at the city from a new perspective. I was hooked! I wanted to bring to life the facilities that house, heal, and move people. 

What led you to pursue a career in the the construction industry? Any early experiences that influenced your career path?

I am a problem-solver and puzzle lover by nature. Those passions, combined with learning about engineering from my dad, led me to a reverse-engineering class in high school. That class validated my curiosity in taking things apart to understand how they worked and taught me that I was well-suited to engineering. 

I spent my first year of college in chemical engineering, but I wanted to see the application of solutions and their direct impact on people’s lives. Those pieces fell into place when I switched to civil and environmental engineering.

 Who have been your strongest influences in life?

My family has always been my greatest influence. My mom is the most compassionate person and taught me to stand up for my beliefs. My dad is steadfast and reliable. My sisters have been sources of endless support and reflection. Tom, my partner, motivates me to be the best version of myself. Finally, my grandmother immigrated from Japan when she was 16 after surviving World War II in Tokyo. She just turned 92 and is an incredible woman. She instilled a strong sense of culture and pride in my family. She raised two children while working as a nurse full-time in an environment that was not always welcoming. Her work ethic and positive outlook have always inspired me.

What advice do you have for someone looking to start a career in construction?

The best thing young engineers can do is expose themselves to many aspects of a project and construction processes. You don’t have to be great at everything, but understanding all the pieces that go into construction and learning from talented people is invaluable. You gain so much from learning how other people do their jobs and hearing about their experiences. You will earn greater respect from those you take the time to understand.

What does "Thrive as You, Succeed Together” mean to you?

To perform your best at work, you must be able to bring your best qualities and characteristics to the role. To me, a team can only be successful when its members are the best version of themselves.

Photo Caption: Before she moved to the Pacific Northwest to oversee project development, Emily was a project manager on West Lane, a 122,000-square-foot, 112-unit apartment building in Bethesda, Maryland.