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Women In Construction Week 2024

March 4, 2024      By Holly Tishfield

Today marks the beginning of Women in Construction Week, a dedicated period held annually to celebrate and promote the role of women in the construction industry. The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) originated the first WIC Week in 1998, and in the 25 years since, it has evolved into a nationally recognized event. Women in Construction Week not only commemorates the historical journey of women in construction but also serves as a catalyst for inspiring the next generation to forge ahead. 

This year’s theme, ‘Keys to the Future,’ celebrates the strength and knowledge of women and the vital role they play in shaping the future of the construction industry. 

To commemorate Women in Construction Week, we sat down with several exceptional RS&H associates making important contributions to the construction industry.  

Stephanie Burchant, PE, CEI Project Engineer 

Jacki Hart, PE, Senior Project Engineer

Julie Hero, PE, CEI Area Leader 

Samantha Moore, Inspector Tech II 

Haley Swords, Operations Specialist 

Stephanie Burchant, PE, CEI Project Engineer

What inspired you to pursue a career in construction?

I come from a family of engineers and knew from a very early age that I also wanted to be an engineer. I excelled at math and science and loved Legos, but I also had a passion for helping others. As I got older, I found that I could combine my engineering mind with my passion for helping others by becoming a civil engineer. As civil engineers, we design roads, bridges, and other multi-model forms of transportation to help people get safely from one place to another. We design new and help replace outdated utilities, so people have reliable storm, waste, and drinking water, and these, in turn, help with site development to ensure our communities function in the best way possible. I found my way to construction as I consider myself “solar-powered.” and wanted a career that didn’t involve sitting at a desk all day. I love being in the field, having my “boots on the ground,” and playing in the dirt. I enjoy interacting with the individuals who build the work, seeing a plan set come to life, and being able to be creative by solving problems daily, as paper designs are hardly ever perfect or match the challenges presented in the field. 

How did you overcome any challenges you’ve run into over the course of your career?

I have found over the course of my career, the best way to overcome challenges is to ask questions and get in the field. When I first started in the construction industry, I would attend meetings and not have any clue on 95% of what was being discussed. Rather than pretend I knew what was going on, I would write down my questions during the meeting, meet with members of my team afterward, and ask my questions to get clarification on what I didn’t know. When the next meeting rolled around, I was able to comprehend and follow more of what was being discussed. I also found that going out in the field allowed me to make connections with what I saw in the plans and what I was reading in the spec book, to what was actually being built. The members of your team will always appreciate knowing you are making an effort to learn and genuinely enjoy telling you what they have experienced in the past. 

Can you share a specific accomplishment or project you’ve worked on while at RS&H that you’re proud of?

A specific project I am proud of isn’t necessarily a construction project but is a training program I have helped manage and develop with other members of the Colorado CM team. Working with CDOT, we have developed and delivered presentations on high-risk construction items with higher quality issues in Colorado. These construction items include girder erections, overhead sign structures, bridge demolition, drilled caissons, and driven piles. I am proud of this project because I feel that we are helping mold the minds of new inspectors and ultimately improving the overall quality of construction projects throughout the state. This project has allowed RS&H to not only impact one specific project but impact all projects that are inspected by those attending this course. 

Why do you like working with RS&H?

There are so many reasons I enjoy working at RS&H, but the most important one is the people and the truly inclusive environment our CM and leadership teams have created. I have worked for other companies in the construction field and personally know the culture RS&H has for diversity, honesty, hard work, and caring for others is not found everywhere in this industry. In construction, the work done is relatively consistent, and the difference comes down not to the project but to the people we complete the projects with. While there are always challenges to be faced, I look forward to coming to work every day and solving these challenges with an incredibly smart, open-minded, and fun team. 

What is one piece of advice you would give someone considering entering the construction industry?

One piece of advice I would give to those entering the construction industry is to not expect to know everything on day one and to be patient when learning and growing your career. While many careers these days are focused and built on secondary education, a lot of the construction (and engineering) industry is based on field experience and growing your knowledge and reputation over several years and even decades. It’s not easy to learn the best means and methods or the most efficient way to build a bridge in the classroom or after one project because every job and build is different. There is no “one size fits all” solution when designing and building roads, bridges, or water systems. A lot of what the best and most senior representatives in our field know is based on dozens of past projects, exposure to hundreds of different situations, and ultimately, learning the most from trial and error. Be patient when climbing the ladder and take every opportunity, both big and small, as a chance to learn. Ask any and all questions from those you work with that have the expertise you ultimately desire and don’t be afraid to try new things, fail, and continue to learn and grow.

Jacki Hart, PE, Senior Project Engineer 

What inspired you to pursue a career in construction?

My dad was always having me do projects with him around the house, fixing things and doing repairs, and both of my parents encouraged math. I think that’s the foundation of why I went into this industry. I started college with the goal of becoming a teacher, switched to a math major, and then realized that I was on track to become an engineer. I believe I accomplished all those things because, in this field, you are always teaching and helping others, using math to solve problems, and applying engineering principles on a day-to-day basis. 

How do you support the next generation of women entering the field?

Being a role model to younger women entering this field is important. Taking the time to teach them and show them that hands-on experience in the field is critical to growing in this industry. It is also important to let women know that you can balance being a mom and having a career in this industry. Some advice for the next generation: don’t be afraid to speak up and don’t be afraid to make a decision, as long as it is based on sound logic and facts. All of us make mistakes, but learning from them and moving forward from them is what makes for success.   

What are you currently working on that you’re excited about?

I am currently the senior engineer on two very different projects. One is a final mile bike facility project that is installing bike racks, bike lockers, solar flagging lights, and fixit stations throughout the Florida Keys to better support cyclists. The other is a shoulder widening and resurfacing project up by Lake Okeechobee. This is a very rural area, and I have finally seen “The Lake” after over 40 years of living in Florida. 

What aspects of the construction industry do you find most rewarding and why? 

I really enjoy being part of the project from the very start and managing it to the final completion day. Seeing the changes as the project moves forward and working as part of a team with the client and the contractor to build something new or improved. I love what I do. This job allows you to see and take part in new infrastructure, learn new things almost daily, meet new people, resolve disputes, solve problems, write technical papers, review contracts, teach others, network within the industry, and even get into politics if you want to venture into that. It’s never dull! 

Can you share a specific accomplishment or project you’ve worked on while at RS&H that you’re proud of?  

When I started at RS&H I had successfully worked in the industry for 25 years with another firm but hadn’t gotten my PE. Work and life just got in the way of making time for the PE exam. Doug Geiger (RS&H) was the one person that really pushed and inspired me to do it. I sat for the PE exam and passed the first year I was here at RS&H. Now I am not only a Florida PE, but also licensed in Georgia as a PE, as well. 

A project accomplishment: Running two FDOT residency projects over 8 years in the Florida Keys. The work consisted of everything from simple landscape projects to more complex road and bridge rehabilitation projects. RS&H was the CEI for the first HAWK installations in Monroe County as well as the first installation of microwave detection for signals. Seeing the improvements along US 1 and within Key West that I have been involved with over the years is something I am very proud of.

Connect with Jacki on LinkedIn

Julie Hero, PE, CEI Area Leader

What inspired you to pursue a career in construction?

I started my career in structural design. That’s what I thought I wanted to do, coming out of college. When I graduated, I was working for a transportation firm like RS&H and I spent a lot of time in the office working on a giant “homework” problem day in and day out. I was the youngest person on the team and my boss wanted me to gain some experience and go out in the field to see the stuff that we were drawing up in person.  I ended up loving it. I much preferred being in the field versus staying in the office. I took on a small role as a construction inspector. I did some bridge inspections, but I enjoyed being out in the field more than in the office. 

What are you currently working on that you’re excited about?

RS&H was selected for a large contract here in Tyler, TX, for a road called FM 2493 and Interchange US 69. It’s a $140 million construction cost. It’s one of the bigger contracts we’ve had here in Tyler.  I’m just now getting into it and I’m really excited to get started on this complex project. 

In what ways have you found support within the construction industry? How do you support the next generation of women entering the field?

Certain personalities will be difficult, whether you’re male or female, and it’s just the challenge of trying to navigate through that. I’ve been fortunate enough to have very supportive coworkers, like my team here at RS&H. I definitely think that’s what makes the difference of having those people on your side, even if the other side isn’t always amicable. What keeps me going is my team. 

What is one piece of advice you would give someone considering entering the construction industry?

I think it’s fun because every day is different. I mean, just now, I was out in a ditch watching someone shovel mulch out of a culvert. It’s not your average everyday engineering. If you want a unique challenge and every day to be something different, then this is the career for you.  

What do you believe is the key to the future of women in the construction field?

Growing up, we’re not really told that we can do something like this: go become an engineer or a construction worker. It’s not what society thinks a woman should be. So, breaking those boundaries and overcoming that mentality will help future generations. My father was very supportive as he was an Electrical Engineer and exposed me at a young age to science fairs and to what engineers do. One thing that I’ve done here in Tyler is sit on the board at Discovery Science Place, a local children’s museum. I have volunteered at their event “STEM Like a Girl.” It helps expose young females to career fields that maybe they haven’t thought about in science and engineering. I think it’s about exposure. It’s knowing that you have these options for the future.

Connect with Julie on LinkedIn

Samantha Moore, Inspector Tech II 

What inspired you to pursue a career in construction? 

I’ve been around this kind of work my entire life. My dad worked for the airlines and as a side gig did roofing and siding, so I grew up helping my dad with all of his side jobs. In high school, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and my dad was actually the one to suggest that I would do well with construction. So that’s what I decided to do because I loved being outside and working with my hands and seeing a project through from start to finish.  

Can you discuss a situation where you had to problem-solve on the job, and what strategies did you employ to overcome the challenge?

When I worked at a different company, I was on a project where we were building a tunnel outside of Detroit. It was about 4 miles long, 90 feet underground, and about 16 feet in diameter. My company at the time designed it and did all of the geotechnical instrumentation, so leading up to the project, we knew that we were going to run into problems. One morning at four a.m., I got a phone call from someone on-site saying that we had lost part of the machine and hit the water. Everyone was fine, but it was a huge problem and brought the project to a stop. Based on what I was able to assess, I implemented some testing to make sure that none of the local services (such as storm or sewer) would be affected. The project manager was away for the weekend, so I really had to step up and problem-solve on my own until we corrected the problem and were able to move forward with the project.   

What do you believe is the key to the future of women in the construction field?

One of the hardest challenges as a woman in this field is dealing with people who don’t think you’re competent, and this older mentality that women don’t belong in the construction industry. It’s something a lot of women coming into this field face. You have to learn to be confident and stand up for what you believe in. The biggest key to the future is making sure that women have strong mentors of any gender who believe in them and will support them. But I also believe that having more female leadership would be a great benefit to younger generations of women who want to enter the industry.  

Why do you like working with RS&H?

The two biggest things I like about RS&H are my bosses and how the company prioritizes a healthy work-life balance. A work-life balance is one of the reasons I came to RS&H in the first place. I know that the construction industry doesn’t always prioritize that kind of thing, but RS&H does. Having bosses who will go out of their way to check on you and let you be there for your family is a really big deal to me. There are always resources and people you can call.   

What is one piece of advice you would give someone considering entering the construction industry?

I think this is something to consider for every field, but for construction, in particular, I’d say my advice would be to have a strong backbone and willpower. If there’s ever a situation where you’re wrong, don’t be afraid to admit it. No one ever wants to admit that they’re wrong, but there’s a strength in taking accountability. You can admit that you’re wrong and still show confidence. 

Connect with Samantha on LinkedIn

Haley Swords, Operations Specialist 

What are you currently working on that you’re excited about?

I transitioned recently within the company from working on a project (HRBT Expansion) to working on the business side of things. It’s exciting learning about how the firm conducts internal operations while at the same time expanding my knowledge about the industry. I’m getting hands-on experience with our subcontracting processes, project data maintenance, financial planning, contract negotiation submittals, etc.   

Can you discuss a situation where you had to problem-solve on the job, and what strategies did you employ to overcome the challenge?

Our ability to problem-solve on the job sets us apart from other firms. In general, we problem-solve every day in both our personal lives and work lives – whether those problems are big or small. In my experience, I have found that communication is key to success. Sometimes it takes getting everyone in the same room for an hour to hash things out and get on the same page. And following up! It’s easy to move on from something and forget because people get busy – so following up on something can be just as important.  

Can you share a specific accomplishment or project that you’ve worked on while at RS&H that you’re proud of?

I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work as the Deputy Project Controls Manager on the ~$3.9 billion Design-Build Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel Expansion Project. It’s the largest highway construction project in Virginia’s history and includes new twin bored tunnels across the harbor. I helped develop our databases, PowerBI dashboard reports, performance indicators, etc. while also gaining experience using Primavera P6 scheduling software. On such a large, unique project, the learning opportunities were endless. 

Why do you like working with RS&H?

RS&H has an amazing company culture. You really feel like you’re part of the team and that your voice matters. It’s even better that the company promotes continuous learning – I was able to pursue my master’s degree with the support of the company. 

What is one piece of advice you would give someone considering entering the construction industry?

Every day is an opportunity to learn something new – don’t ever stop learning. 

Connect with Haley on LinkedIn

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