Going boldly where relatively few have gone before, 14 women — the
most ever — graduated last last spring from Texas A&M
University with bachelors degrees in construction science, entering
an industry traditionally dominated by men.
"The young women who choose this major do very, very well," says
Charles Graham, Mitchell Endowed Professor and interim department
head of the Department of Construction Science (COSC), "but,
unfortunately, despite our vigorous recruiting efforts, the numbers
of women in the department have crept up extremely slowly over
the years. From about three percent of students during the program's
early days, today about 12 percent of our majors are women.
"In part, these percentages are the result of our industry's
image — when
people hear the word construction, they think of jobs operating
heavy equipment, tying steel or connecting I-beams at the job
site. But in reality, almost all of our graduates, both male
and female, enter the work force as managers, directing other
employees and performing complex calculations and contract negotiations.
"In fact, our curriculum provides an excellent preparation
to enter management in any number of fields."
The COSC department, housed in the College of Architecture, is
home to 29 faculty members and nearly 700 students, making it
one of the largest such programs in the country. Students take
courses to prepare them for construction industry apprenticeships
that groom them for management positions. The curriculum offers
an interdisciplinary approach that conveys a broad knowledge
of materials and methods of construction, construction procedures,
construction law, estimating, scheduling and construction operations.
Students are required to complete general courses in the humanities,
mathematics and the physical and social sciences to provide a
well-rounded background. They also pursue courses at Mays Business
School and the College of Engineering to obtain appropriate expertise
in related fields.
This year's 87 May graduates, including all the women, have received
an average of 3.7 job offers each, at starting salaries that
hover around the $50,000 mark.
"Women COSC majors are successful because they want to be
here in spite of any image the public might have of our industry," says
Debra Ellis, a construction attorney and one of the department's
five female faculty members. "This is their degree of choice,
and our female graduates succeed at an astounding rate. In December,
2005, the top student in the entire architecture college was
a woman COSC major, Natalie Frantz. She received 12 job offers
and is on a fast-track to success at her chosen employer.
"Natalie, like all our other female students, had to compete
with male COSC students, many of whom come to the program with
more hands-on construction industry experience. And like her
sister students, she overcame a lot to succeed. But, interestingly
enough, once a woman enters our program, she usually stays — the
attrition rate for female COSC majors is very low."
The presence of women on the COSC faculty is important to students
like graduating senior Susan White of College Station, who regards
Ellis as her role model.
White, who had no prior construction experience, spent last summer
interning for general contractor Whiting-Turner on the job site
at Houston's Baybrook Mall, helping to build a JC Penney store
by working on estimates with subcontractors and, clad in hardhat
and steel-toed boots, helping to perform quality control inspections
of the work completed on the building each day.
"I really enjoyed the environment in the COSC department,
and its relationships with the construction industry are great," says
White, who has accepted a job with construction-industry consulting
firm Veritas of Dallas, one of seven firms with which she interviewed
and which all tendered offers. "Everyone in the department
was friendly and supportive, and even though we girls were outnumbered,
the male students always treated us very well. Majoring in construction
science not only opened a world of opportunities for me, but
it was fun, too."
Graham credits much of his program's success to industry support.
"The industry is very supportive of our program here at Texas
A&M," says Graham, "with 75 companies serving on
our Construction Industry Advisory Council (CIAC) and more than
300 companies offering internships to our students each year.
And this spring, 120 companies came to campus to recruit our
Internships (and subsequent jobs) often take students far from
Texas, with some of them helping to build American embassies
in Russia and China in recent years. May graduate Chasity Jansa
of Garden City interned in Washington, D.C., last summer and
will be returning there after graduation to work for EEReed Construction
as a project coordinator on site as well as in the office. She
will also work with the company's vice president, coordinating
"Choosing to major in construction science was one of the
best decisions of my life," Jansa says. "Texas A&M's
COSC department is really just a big family. Despite all the
hard work, I had fun in my classes because COSC people really
care about each other. For example, some of my professors took
it upon themselves to speak with companies on my behalf, and
none of my friends in other majors has had the same interviewing
opportunities I've had.
"The male COSC students have been great, too — I assume
it's like having a lot of brothers to hang out with and to look
out for you."
But some women graduates will be staying closer to home. After
graduation, Lindsey Bayer of Dallas will be joining History Maker
Homes in Fort Worth as a builder.
"When I first came to Texas A&M, I intended to study environmental
design, but I accidentally signed up for construction science," Bayer
says. "It was the best mistake I ever made. I've enjoyed
my COSC classes and like being part of such a close-knit major.
It made going to a large university seem so much cosier and gave
me the chance to interact more with faculty. Being a girl in
the program has not been that difficult, either, because all
the COSC guys have been very accepting and supportive of us."
Graham says that career paths for women graduates seem to parallel
those for men in the industry, especially as they start out.
He cites several women that own their own contracting companies,
including Alpha Construction, which specializes in small projects
on university campuses throughout the United States, and several
who are now CEOs or CFOs of large construction companies.
All 14 of this Friday's female COSC graduates represent success
stories that emphasize the commitment and determination of women
who choose this major. But their success also reflects the determination
of the construction science department to reach out to women
"Because of our industry's image of being dominated by men,
I believe that COSC works harder than other departments to recruit
women and minority students and to make sure there is a level
playing field once they get here," Graham says. "We
like to think of ourselves as a student-friendly department.
And our students reward our efforts with their success."
14 women graduated with construction science
construction science graduation event