Like many before her, this Colorado State University Construction Management alumna fell in love with Fort Collins and the CSU campus, easily influencing her decision to stay. Also, like many before her, Jennifer Lauritzen (’97) started her college career in a different field before learning about construction management.
“I had aspirations to go into a career in investment banking, so I enrolled as a finance major at CSU; it took less than a year for me to realize that was not the right career path for me,” said Lauritzen. A friend and upper classman in the finance department suggested Lauritzen talk to her father, James Parnell, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Construction Management. After meeting Parnell and learning about CM, with the elements of engineering, field work, business management, and industry innovation, Lauritzen knew this was the perfect fit for her.
Establishing a work ethic and adventurous pursuits
Growing up in Colorado, Lauritzen’s grandparents and extended family all lived on the family ranch in Gunnison, where she spent summers and holidays. Spending summers helping her family on the ranch taught a lot about hard work, compassion for both people and animals, and instilled a deep sense of equity. As a girl, she was never treated differently than her brother and male cousins, as all had to do the same work, Lauritzen explained.
“This upbringing created the framework of my beliefs and values today, and is the foundation of my adventurous nature,” she said. “Beyond working in a male-dominated industry, I also am drawn to sports and activities that happen to be male-dominated, partly because they are viewed as high-risk, I suppose: rock-climbing, motorcycle racing, and more recently paragliding, to name a few! I acknowledge the fact that these are riskier activities, but I enjoy them because learning the details and executing with precision is required to excel. I honestly get that same ‘rush of energy’ when I am helping to problem-solve how to safely build a new 8-foot deep foundation system under an existing, occupied hospital while protecting the on-going operations and patient care. I thrive on learning, creativity, problem-solving and adventure and I seek it out in my work and in my play.”
Lauritzen considers herself fortunate with the timing of her graduation, as the construction industry was booming and the career opportunities were plentiful. She was recruited from CSU by a northern California-based company, DPR. She moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where the dot-com companies were driving growth. There, she was able to work on a number of very complex projects, and as a young project engineer in a thriving market, she was given significant responsibility and opportunity for learning, advancement, and even a bit of risk-taking.
As she entered a relationship with now husband, Jason, they were eager to buy a house and settle into a community, driving them to relocate to Sacramento where she joined Swinerton, about 18 years ago. In her career, she has worked on a diverse range of project types from schools, high-rises, office buildings, residential homes, and in a variety of industries including entertainment, manufacturing, and technology.
However, it was hospital construction that really attracted Lauritzen. She appreciates the tangible sense of providing something very necessary and meaningful, to serve her community. She is currently a project executive having moved back to the Bay Area about five years ago to lead Swinerton’s NorCal Healthcare Division projects and growth in the region.
Passionate for change
Asked what currently challenges her, Lauritzen said, “As I have grown in my career and my life, I have discovered the joy and excitement I used to find in planning and problem-solving for complex projects has shifted to a joy and enthusiasm in leading and coaching my teams. I am like a proud parent each time one of my team members is promoted or recognized for their accomplishments. I have also become very passionate about promoting construction as a career path to young people, especially women, who were historically told there was not a place for them in this industry.”
Lauritzen surmises this possibly stems from her lack of knowledge of the construction industry when she was young, but also from her deep-rooted sense of equality when it comes to men and women. She wants to open doors to this amazing career and shine a light on the opportunity it provides to all people, including women.
“I am a founding board member of the Northern California Chapter of WiOPS (Women in Construction Operations),” said Lauritzen. “We have a mission to provide a platform to empower and advance women in construction through mentorship, education, and networking. I am also a committee member for Swinerton’s internal Women Business Resource Group. Our percentage of women in leadership positions at Swinerton hovers around the 15% mark. While that is high relative to the industry averages, it is low when measured against the general population. We have a goal for our project teams and our leadership to be a better reflection of the communities we do business in. I know the construction industry is changing and more welcoming for women and minorities, but we need to start with our young people by letting them know about this awesome, challenging and rewarding field, and showing them there is a place for them in it.”
She also points out that she feels the same way about letting women know they, too, can participate in whatever activities they choose such as racing motorcycles, flying a paraglider, or rock-climbing. Lauritzen’s high-school boyfriend used to rock-climb with his friends; when she asked to go with him, he told her it was not a thing for girls. So, she broke up with him and upon coming to CSU, she signed-up for rock-climbing classes. She went on to meet her husband through rock-climbing.
CM education paved the career path
When asked if she felt CM prepared her well for her career, Lauritzen had no hesitation, “Without a doubt, the technical knowledge I left CSU with was far above and beyond that of many of my peers when I entered the construction industry. I had learned the necessities to do my job on the first day. Because of that I was given those responsibilities and freedom in my first assignment and was able to advance quickly.”
She also feels CSU prepared her well for the people side of the business. She says, “Our internal training program at Swinerton teaches us that PM stands as much for people management as it does project management. I feel CSU CM also taught the fundamentals of people management, especially through the student chapters of the trade organizations, the competitions, the community service projects, and all the other programs available to us beyond the classrooms.”
Lauritzen’s advice for current or new students in the construction management program, follows what many other alumni reiterate: internships! And she adds, “Even better, intern in the field, hands-on as a crafts person. Build an understanding of their day, their needs, and their challenges. The crafts people are the core of our business; we are there to make sure they have what they need to do their jobs in building the project. I was able to work as a laborer part-time while at CSU and it was the best experience. I really developed an understanding of the business from a perspective you can’t fully comprehend from textbooks and lectures. Get your hands dirty!”