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 Phillip Rollfing  

COSC Women

Record number of women
graduate from Texas A&M
construction science program



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 much 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 majors."

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 marketing strategy.

"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 and minorities.

"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."

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14 women graduated with construction science degrees

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