Alonzo Wilson and former Kalamazoo Mayor

“It’s a cheat code”: Alonzo Wilson speaks on his experiences as a U-M IOE alum

Alonzo Wilson graduated from the University of Michigan in 2013 with a BSE in Industrial and Operations Engineering. He started his career working at Goldman Sachs and now works as a Project Controls Specialist for a commercial construction company in Kalamazoo, Mich. And if that isn’t enough Wilson is now running for a seat in…

*At the time of this interview, Wilson was running for a seat in the Kalamazoo City Commission. Wilson has since won that seat and now serves as a Commissioner.

Alonzo Wilson portrait. Wearing a pink dotted shirt with a purple tie crossing his arms.
Alonzo Wilson

Why did you decide to get a degree in Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE)?

When I came to the University of Michigan (U-M) I knew that I wanted to be an engineer, but I wasn’t quite sure which engineering field I wanted to study. While taking entry-level courses during my freshman year, I realized that physics and biology weren’t really my jam. However, at the Michigan Engineering Majors and Minors Fair, I discovered IOE and learned that it was the best of both worlds in terms of applying engineering and business principles, which were both big interests of mine. 

Tell us about your career path after graduation

After graduation, I got an offer from Goldman Sachs to work with their operations group as an Analyst in New York City. I worked on the Client Implementation Management team which was responsible for client onboarding and account setup for almost four years. While with the company, I was able to travel for short-term assignments to Salt Lake City which was awesome!

Two adults standing outside on steps with one smiling child standing next to them and another child sitting on the man's shoulders
Alonzo with his wife and kids

But ultimately, I missed my community and wanted to come back home to Michigan. So I came back to Kalamazoo where I got into software project management. I worked in software project management for a few years and then got the opportunity to switch to project controls engineering for CSM Group, a commercial construction company based in Kalamazoo. Now I manage the budget reporting and financial forecasting on a portfolio of commercial construction projects in Kalamazoo.

What I like most about being in construction is that I get to actually see the fruits of our labor. The buildings we work on are going to be up for years and years to come. Also, the Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship, which I received, pays for in-state tuition to graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools. It’s attracting more families to the area so there’s a lot going on construction-wise as we try to develop the area. I’m excited to be part of the city’s continued economic growth!

What is your advice to undergraduates going into the job market?

Four people stand on a porch wearing "508 Hill" shirts while in graduation cap and gowns
Alonzo and his roommates

My degree in IOE sometimes feels like a cheat code because it gives you the tools to excel in any industry and within any company. I’m currently working on project controls but I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing success in the tech, oil and gas, and manufacturing industries throughout my career. You can do literally anything you want so don’t feel like you have to pick a company or career path and stick to that plan for the next 40 years.

Another thing to remember is that company culture matters, and finding the right fit is important for you and your career. If you’re in a role that you don’t feel is a good fit for you don’t be afraid to make that jump. Take chances and take risks!

You’re running for a seat as Kalamazoo City Commissioner. How did that come about? 

Alonzo Wilson and former Kalamazoo Mayor
Alonzo and former Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell

I never saw myself as a politician. I blame IOE because now I’m constantly trying to solve problems and right now I’m thinking, my career is in a good place, my family is in a good place, let me see what else I can work on. That led me to join an Organizing Committee this summer called “Shared Prosperity of Kalamazoo”, where we look at different solutions and ways to bring some shared prosperity to the community. There is a void of young leaders in politics today, especially at the local level. I feel like until we get younger representation in our government, a lot of the decisions being made might not be the best for the generations to come. I’m hoping to get into office and inspire the next generation to get involved early and often, thus taking control of their own destinies. 

If you were to get a seat, what would you like to work on? 

I want to focus on making sure that families have the foundation at home that is necessary to succeed in this world. Construction costs are increasing and fewer houses are being built as a result, so I’m hoping to make more affordable housing available to those who need it. As much as I can, I’d like to create job opportunities and career development, especially for the trades to combat the rising cost of living. Lastly, I’d like to look at the school systems to ensure that kids are receiving the quality education they deserve as well as being equipped with the life skills they’ll need to thrive after graduation. 

I’m also passionate about our environmental impact. I want to make sure that our water quality is up to par, through the way we invest in our wastewater treatment. Air quality is also a huge area we could improve upon. Additionally, there’s a lot of construction going on in Kalamazoo. As we’re developing our downtown I want to make sure we are being conscious of our environment and staying on target with our goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

How do you think IOE set you up for your career?

Alonzo with former CoE Dean, Dr. Munson

I would say my degree in IOE has made me invaluable. U-M does a good job of helping set you apart from the competitive job market and provides you with an incredible network of peers and mentors. It can be a tough four years, but it was worth it because now I understand that I deserve to have a seat at any table that I am fortunate enough to have an opportunity to sit at.

I didn’t even know that as an engineer, I could work for Goldman Sachs but by having those business principles instilled in me from IOE, I was able to go to Goldman and excel comfortably. While I was there I made a lot of good connections and saw another part of the country. I didn’t think I would ever live in New York City so that in itself was amazing.

Even in my career today in construction, having that technical but also business-orientated background allows me to navigate my career in a way that I don’t feel stuck. Oftentimes a major can pigeonhole you into one field or career path, but I’ve done construction, finance, IT, and now I am running for a local government position. I don’t think I would have been able to have that diversity in my career path if it wasn’t for IOE!