Women in Construction Management Summer Institute: Breaking down stereotypes and building confidence

Hosted by the Colorado State University Department of Construction Management, the annual summer institute was held June 7-11 on the CSU campus. Twenty-two high school-aged girls attended this year’s camp.

The recurring theme throughout the five-day program was empowering young women to envision themselves doing anything they set their minds to — including working in the male-dominated construction industry.

This five-day four-night on-campus program is for high school students, ages 15-18 who are interested in Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC). Each day participants engaged with professional women representing AEC industries, as well as college mentors to work on building their confidence and developing an understanding of construction management, the built environment, and related careers, while having fun exploring construction-related topics and activities.

Construction activities

One opening exercise includes using construction plans to build Lego replicas of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. They carefully counted the number of bricks required for each pylon, for example, and received a limited number of them in a cardboard box “barge.” Occasionally, when a team would get too far ahead of the others, program coordinator Anna Fontana would hand that team a pretend delay, like a worker strike or a new tariff on materials.

Over the course of the week, the girls experienced a variety of exercises and activities that introduced them to various aspects of construction. Mid-week, one popular activity is the “equipment rodeo.” Thanks to Sunstate Equipment for providing the equipment such as a mini-excavator, a scissor-lift, and a forklift, allowing the girls to get hands-on experience with each type. Additionally, the girls experienced a welding station and also had the opportunity to see how drones are used in construction work.

These young women also learned how to use computer-modeling technologies employed in the industry including demonstrations of mixed and virtual reality from industrial technology company, Trimble. They toured job sites, heard presentations from women working in the field, and received a complimentary bag of tools provided by Milwaukee Tools.

Other activities had the participants make boxes out of wood and industrial pipe, provided by US Engineering, as well as a working concrete lamp — which required them to strip electrical wire, attach a switch, mix and pour concrete, and attach a bulb with a base. There were sessions on estimating, scheduling, strength-finding, and confidence-building. They heard from a variety of women — including current college students, alumni, and industry members — at a panel presentation and during sessions throughout the week.

For the fourth year, the Beavers Charitable Trust ensured that all the young women could attend the institute for a nominal registration fee by supporting the program as the lead donor in funding the camp.

Positive outcomes

Girls who participate in the summer institute report positive outcomes: gaining self-confidence, feeling more informed about leadership roles for women, learning that construction is a great field for women, and recommending this program to others.

One camper commented, “At the beginning of camp, it [being all-female] didn’t seem so important; but after some time, the amazing mentors and inspiring women we met changed my opinion. It is important for girls to meet inspirational women and be exposed to a positive, all-girl experience.”

Another added, “It helped me gain confidence as a woman and allowed me to realize the opportunities in this career.” And, “We need more female empowerment like this!”

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