We are excited to share stories of our inspiring women this week as we celebrate all women making a difference in the construction industry.
In June of 2021, JE Dunn was hired to renovate HCA’s Southern Hills Medical Center Operating Room. What started out as a phased renovation to remove a heaved concrete slab and update the suite with new finishes, quickly became much more complicated with unforeseen conditions.
While headaches during renovations are typical, the team leading this project is not typical within the construction industry. More than half of the core project management team members are female including Project Manager Kristen Drake, Project Engineer Linley Pierson, and Project Engineer Emmy Melchert. While a small team with several women was just a coincidence, they are grateful for it.
The trio has built a strong relationship they hadn’t expected working in construction and this relationship is the foundation which has helped them navigate the numerous obstacles this renovation uncovered.
The cause of the heaving was determined to be an expandible clay soil that had been exposed to water. The project’s geotechnical engineer instructed the team to dig down to bedrock and remove the clay layer and then refill the hole before starting the OR construction. This excavation has been the biggest challenge, and, at times, has required digging 9 feet below the existing finished floor.
Since this hospital was built in 1978, the historical drawings were not extremely accurate. The team has been able to anticipate where some of the underground lines are located, but also discovered live underground electrical lines feeding other parts of the hospital that weren’t shown in any historical drawings. They are currently working around these lines. With the critical nature of hospitals, cutting one of these lines could have tragic results.
“Construction is not for the faint of heart or the thin skinned. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, and some days everything gets under your skin. However, all jobs come with pros and cons, it’s a job that has physical results of the hard work you’ve put in and those results are worth fighting for,” said Pierson.
The women agree that dealing with these unknowns has been a great learning opportunity for everyone on the team, young and old. Through critical thinking, organizational skills, knowing they can rely on each other, and a little humor, they are dedicated to completing this difficult project despite the setbacks.
“Knowing that I am growing with each day’s challenges and mistakes is rewarding. I am always either winning or learning. Also, I know this is one of JE Dunn Nashville’s most complicated projects, and it is cool to be able to play a part in moving it forward,” said Melchert.
The project is on track to complete in early 2024 and the newly renovated 22,000 sf OR will expand the care HCA can offer the Nashville community.
JE Dunn Construction is currently constructing a new student housing project for the University of Wyoming in Laramie. The project is valued at $170M and will add 183,000 sf of space. Included in this space is a 6-story dormitory, an 850-person student dining facility, and program space for residential academic programs.
In one of the larger self-perform contracts our Rocky Mountain Region has held, JE Dunn carries the scopes for concrete, rough carpentry, doors, frames, hardware, and low voltage but what is truly unique about this self-perform work is the predominately female team leading the work. Project Superintendent MJ Kamin, Senior Preconstruction Manager Ruth Stabile are dedicated to the self-perform scopes and Estimating Engineer Kat Brumitt, Project Engineer Molly Margolis and Project Coordinator Lindsey Halverson are all supporting the entire project.
We recently touched base with members of the team to discuss the project’s unique challenges as well as their perspectives on opportunities for woman in a predominately male industry.
Each of these women has a unique story about how they became interested in a career in construction. Ruth Stabile started out in engineering on the design side in the 1990s and very quickly recognized how much she loved being on site watching something tangible being built. After a few moves within the industry, she joined JE Dunn’s preconstruction team in 2015 and has never looked back. About 3 years into her employment, she was presented the opportunity to focus solely on our self-perform work.
“I’ve always had a passion for self-perform work and a solid foundation for it. I like being a piece of the puzzle we’re doing ourselves. It brings me a sense of accomplishment and pride,” said Stabile.
The theme of “taking opportunities” was present in everything Stabile said. When asked about how this mostly-female team was formed, she answered, “Kat and I are dedicated to self-perform preconstruction, so we were already in place. Then we had some young, sharp, and hungry project engineers, project coordinators and superintendents, who just happen to be women, say yes to an opportunity.”
MJ Kamin, self-perform project superintendent, grew up with an interest in math and science but no interest in sitting behind a desk. Construction has allowed her to spend time outside on her feet while being challenged and rewarded. She started with JE Dunn in 2018 as a project engineer with hopes of pursuing a career in project management. After some time, she realized she loved being in the field putting work in place, especially concrete.
“When I graduated from college, I didn’t know the Superintendent path was an option, but I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to find what I enjoy doing,” said Kamin.
She added that breaking ground in Wyoming in January has been particularly challenging, and their team has had to navigate some tough conditions for pouring footings and foundations. Availability of labor has also been tricky.
Project Engineer Molly Margolis has a similar path to Kamin. She started out as a Field Engineer Intern and has worked her way up to Project Engineer after graduating from college in December 2022.
“This is not where I saw myself 5 years ago, but I am very grateful and happy to be where I am today. I have worked on four different projects with JE Dunn in Colorado and in California. I am very excited to be working on this project. I believe the team has come together due to hard work. We have each stood out as individuals in our own ways on previous projects and that brought all of us together for this opportunity,” said Margolis.
Valero is the largest independent petroleum refiner in the world and the world’s largest renewable fuels producer. At their Houston refinery location, employees had been waiting for more than a decade for a new space. That wait ended in 2022, when JE Dunn began construction of the new 42,000 sf facility.
Valero employees are currently working out of temporary trailers while we are in the thick of construction. They have been enthusiastic and heavily involved in decision making throughout the process. Construction will be complete in December of 2023 and our on-site team realizes the importance of being entrusted to build someone else’s home.
“I love taking someone’s idea and watching it come to life as a building and seeing how they react to their ‘baby’ growing up,” said Lynn Terry who is serving as Project Director and has worked closely with Valero on several projects. The building will duplicate prototypes Valero has built in Ardmore, Oklahoma and in Three Rivers, Texas.
While the building might be prototypical, the core project team is not prototypical in the construction industry. Four members of the team are women. In addition to Terry, Senior Project Manager Lynnsee Boyse, Senior Project Engineer Sabrina Belloso, and Project Administrator Angela McGary are all grateful to be part of a dynamic industry, and the connections they have made from people of all different backgrounds.
“Often women first think of putting work in place as a primary role in construction, however, I want them to know women can hold any position: project management, field, estimating, virtual design, safety, and more,” said Boyse.
This project for Valero has called on Boyse and her coworkers to utilize all the skills, both tangible and intangible, they’ve acquired along the way. “I lead all my relationships with respect and with receptive ears, ready to listen and digest,” said Belloso.
With various on-site challenges encountered early in the project, she has had to call upon those skills and work with the team to come up with creative solutions and alternate sequencing options, while also adhering to the original schedule.
The women agreed that overcoming challenges and building relationships are two of the most rewarding aspects of their careers. Boyse, Belloso, and the project’s architect are all first-time moms with babies ranging from 10-13 months. This unique opportunity has resulted in a personal and professional bonding experience for all and has made the work that much more enjoyable.
“When a building is under construction the work continues throughout the year and the hours can be long. At times, the sentiment amongst women in construction is that it may be difficult to start a family while also maintaining our high level of work ethic. Today, companies have found more ways to be flexible and provide an ideal amount of work life balance. Speaking as a first-time new mom to a NICU baby, it is possible! Having two other moms on this team makes it even better, because we are able to support each other in ways that are truly special,” said Boyse
In addition to the importance of building relationships, all the women stated that speaking up and being coachable has been critical to their success.
“Don’t try to be someone you are not. Be authentic and reach out to other women in the industry as well as men who can help mentor and coach you throughout your career. I stood on the shoulders of many people, both men and women, throughout my career and would not be where I am without their guidance,” said Terry.
From stadiums and entertainment venues to hospitals and residential towers, projects around the country are steadily picking up steam, and so, too, are the opportunities for women in construction. More and more, women are breaking through, creating their own paths and leaving their marks on typically male-dominated industries—and the project team for the Kansas City Current Stadium is no exception. As the first stadium purpose built for a professional women’s soccer team, the project is full of strong women who are not only making history, but also inspiring a new generation of females at home and on the job. Not only does JE Dunn have a female led construction team for this project, but our partner Monarch Build is woman-owned, also with a leadership team of women. Our Henderson Engineering partners on this project also bring a wealth of experience with its woman-led engineering team.
As the labor shortage continues to present a challenge for construction teams in every market, women are uniquely positioned to play a large role in the solution. Underscored by the makeup of the construction team for the Kansas City Current Stadium, women are playing a larger role and have the chance to bring a different perspective and lessons learned to each project—and to the industry as a whole. The biggest game changer? Confidence. “Every project has unique aspects, and the best way to learn is to ask the experts who are installing the work,” said Project Manager Kedra Burcham. “The confidence to ask questions will go a long way in making the project—and the person—successful.” Going hand in hand with asking questions is accepting that some things are beyond your control. “The lesson I have learned that carries to every project is that you have to have the confidence to keep moving on,” said Sharlette Campbell. “Don’t dwell on what you cannot change and have no control over.”
One doesn’t need to look very far to find inspiration in every part of the project, from the people who make up the project team to the stadium itself. “It’s inspiring for people to talk about women building buildings, but we are all people doing hard work that is rewarding for our clients, trade partners, teams and JE Dunn as a whole,” said Senior Project Manager Cassie Morrison. While women have carved out different roles in projects in every industry and of every scope, this one was different from the outset. “I’ve always been the minority when I walk in the jobsite trailer, and that is not the case for the Kansas City Current Stadium,” said Burcham. “I’m one of three female project managers on the project, and I think that speaks to both the evolution of the industry and the different ways women can create careers in construction.”
More than a career in construction, the project team is building a facility that has the country’s attention, and its significance is invigorating the team—and a city. “The entire city is excited about this project. Sports teams in Kansas City bring presence and enthusiasm for their teams everywhere they go; KC Current is no different, and it’s incredible to see the response to the project both locally and nationally,” said Morrison. Having played competitive sports herself, Burcham recognizes the importance of building facilities such as this one. “This is a very high-profile project, not only for KC, but for all women’s sports. It will be the very first stadium in the country built specifically for a woman’s sport, and as an athlete myself, I hope this is only the beginning and that others follow suit.”
Bigger than the project is the message it gives of empowerment, inspiration, and respect that the next generation of female professionals can take with them. “I want both of my kids to understand that they can be anything,” said Burcham. “This is a male-dominated industry, and I’ve never once felt out of place. We need to break down the barrier and encourage females to not let these stereotypes stop us. I’m forever grateful my parents believed in and encouraged me to get into construction, and I want to do the same with both of my kids—encourage them to pursue their passions, no matter the barriers or challenges they may face along the way.”