Laura Lakin
Assistant project manager, Suffolk
Industry experience: 3 years

Laura Lakin’s career in the Massachusetts Army National Guard prepared her for unusual assignments, including a role coordinating the round-the-clock construction of a field hospital at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. That project led to connections with Boston-based construction firm Suffolk and a job offer as an assistant project manager. In her current role, Lakin is part of a Suffolk team overseeing the interior fitout of a new comprehensive brain health and trauma program at the Home Base Center of Excellence, a Charlestown Navy Yard facility that provides treatment for military veterans with mental health disorders, substance abuse and traumatic brain injuries. Lakin is well-versed in the client’s needs as a former employee at Home Base, a national nonprofit that provides clinical care and wellness to veterans and their families.

Q: What were your primary responsibilities as a Home Base employee in Boston?
When I started at Home Base, I had a personal connection to the executive director, retired Brig. Gen. Jack Hammond. I deployed with Gen. Hammond to Afghanistan in 2011, and I had known him for several years before that appointment. I started at Home Base as a part-time veteran outreach coordinator while in graduate school for social work at Boston University, and Gen. Hammond had heard that I was going to be nannying while doing part-time work. He said, “No, come work for Home Base – we need outreach coordinators,” so it was a perfect fit. At the time it was really a small outpatient clinic, so it was a privilege to be able to grow with the program. The Charlestown location was established in 2018 and that was a year-plus-long construction project. Prior to that, it was in several locations all over the Mass. General [Hospital] campus, trying to beg, borrow and steal clinical space wherever we could. When the center opened, the Home Base program was able to more than double their clinical capacity. The new program I’m working on for Suffolk is an expansion of their existing space. There’s quite a long wait list. They are booking patients out to 2025, and the list just continues to grow unfortunately. The good thing is this added space will expand their capacity.

Q: How did your military experience influence your work as an outreach coordinator at Home Base?
When I started out at Home base, the veteran outreach team had two main functions: one was being the peer support for clinics, and the other was getting out in the community and spreading the word about Home Base and the clinical services they offer. The key requirement was being a service member or veteran. Having peer support in any mental health setting is important: Having people that have that kind of cultural competency and understand the circumstances the patients have encountered. Just like any subculture, the military has its own language, its own attitude. Having people that understand that embedded in the clinic is really important.

Q: How did you hear about the career opportunity at Suffolk?
When COVID happened, Gen. Hammond was asked by then-Gov. [Charlie] Baker to be the incident commander of the COVID field hospital within the BCEC. Gen. Hammond sprung into action and I was on his construction team. Suffolk was asked to build the guts of the hospital on the floor of the BCEC, so I was the main point of contact for everything non-clinical. I developed a good relationship with everybody at Suffolk and despite the scary circumstances, it was probably the hardest I ever worked. It was a 24-hour around-the-clock operation and the entire 1,000-bed field hospital was built in six days. Once we got things going, I was in charge of everything from laundry to bathrooms, food and interfacing with the city and the hospitals and doctors.

Q: Who is a mentor who has influenced your career and advancement in construction?
I’ve been lucky to have some incredible mentors at Home Base and now at Suffolk. My first thought is [Suffolk Vice President] Lisa Kochilaris, my first supervisor. It helps to have a female as my first boss in a male-dominated industry and I’m fortunate to have a lot of peer mentors in the Army. We lean into each other for advice.

Lakin’s Five Pieces of Advice for Navigating a Career Change:

  1. It’s never too late (or too early)
  2. Admit when you don’t know something
  3. All experience is applicable
  4. Build your network
  5. Be patient

Amid Crisis, A Career Change Opportunity Emerges

by Steve Adams time to read: 3 min