Construction Management recognized for initiatives supporting recruitment, retention, and connection for women

Anna Fontana and Molly Weisshaar receiving AGC ACE award
CM student Annika O’Neill, Anna Fontana, Molly Weisshaar, and industry mentor, Amy Powell

The Department of Construction Management at Colorado State University was recognized with the 2019 Award for Construction Excellence from the Association of General Contractors (AGC) of Colorado, for two programs that support recruitment, retention, and fostering connection for women in Construction Management.

The award criteria includes having a profound effect on construction education, having an impact on the construction industry, and having a strong commitment to student engagement, education, and leadership. AGC of Colorado states the award was designed to “recognize and celebrate unique initiatives or innovative programming from statewide education programs. These initiatives or innovations should promote the engagement of the construction industry in the education process, preparing students to join the industry, and making an impact in our community.”

Historically, as the construction industry has been dominated by males, industry leaders in recent decades have come to recognize the significant deficit of females, and more importantly, the incredible value in fostering female participation and leadership. Despite the need for greater female participation in the construction industry, enrollment in academic construction management programs around the country remains low.

As a well-established student organization Women in Construction (WIC) provides an opportunity for students to participate in professional development activities specifically intended to strengthen female students’ connection with their career choice. This club has been successful in providing leadership and industry networking opportunities for established students in the CM program, particularly women. However, the department has realized that the challenges in supporting women in CM are much greater than what the WIC club alone could address. As such, the department created two programs to address both enrollment and persistence of women in the CM major.

Women in Construction Management Summer Institute

Three years ago, the department hosted the first Women in Construction Management Summer Institute. This one-week summer program was created to bring young women, ages 15 through 18, to campus to learn about construction management education and careers. The CM Summer Institute specifically focused on CSU’s Alliance Schools and Denver metro schools. These schools have high enrollment of underrepresented youth in the construction industry.

WIC Group of Women
Women in CM Summer Institute

After an enormously successful first year, the CM department was awarded funding from the Beaver’s Charitable Trust to fund the institute for another three years. This award was provided to enhance and continue the work of the institute, which has since added a day to the camp and increased the number of participants. The CM department has completed its third institute (including the pilot year). There are now approximately 30 young women hosted each summer, mostly from Colorado schools, to engage in classroom sessions, job site tours, hands-on lab activities, an equipment rodeo, a female industry panel, and a Habitat for Humanity volunteer day – to name a few of the events. With immediate effect, the department has already enrolled students from the institute to the CM program at CSU.

Feedback from the young women enrolled in the institute has shown a positive influence on their perception of construction and career opportunities. Undoubtedly, their families and friends are also influenced by these young women as they share about their experience. The institute has had a wonderful response and impact on recruitment. It is a long-term investment in high school females and in our industry.

Women Engaging in Construction Mentoring

A second program began in the 2018-19 academic year, called Women Engaging in Construction Mentoring (WE CM). In conversations with students, many women expressed their concern about not only feeling engaged within the construction management program, but also about their resiliency with regard to persisting in the industry overall. WE CM was developed for the purpose of strengthening the self-efficacy of the female students, and cultivating a community of support, specifically through mentorship.

WE CM women working at Habitat for Humanity project
WE CM Women Working on a Habitat for Humanity Project

WE CM provides early connections between the incoming students and two mentors: an upper-class CM student, and an industry mentor. The mentors dedicate time each month in one-on-one meetings and activities with the incoming students. This valuable time is spent advising and bolstering confidence in the student. Mentors share personal experiences that demonstrate strength, resolve, and resilience. One student said, “I have gotten really close with my industry mentor and have been able to learn about what is required mentally and physically in this industry. So much! So many connections. It’s been really rewarding and I feel so much more involved in school and in industry.”

In addition to the mentorship, monthly group activities are held with the purpose of bolstering confidence in areas relevant to women construction managers. Similar to the Women in CM Summer Institute, the WE CM group provides group activities to cultivate community and develop industry relevant skills. Examples of these activities include construction-based community service projects; elevator pitch workshops before the career fair; tools, demonstrations, and building basics projects; and job site tours.

Focused recruitment, mentorship, and fostering a sense of community among the CM women students is having positive effects in the program. CM is encouraged with the growing numbers of women participating in the industry.

The Department of Construction Management is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences