VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital’s new C.A.R.E. Building opened in February 2018, creating a comprehensive medical center housing clinics, administration, rehabilitation and education services for the residents of southern Virginia and northern North Carolina.
Adjacent to the Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill, Virginia, the $14.4 million, 67,000-sq.-ft. C.A.R.E. Building represents VCU’s commitment to make comprehensive healthcare as accessible as possible for its patients. It is home to physician practices and hospital services including cardiology, pulmonology, family care and orthopedics. The new facility will also house a family dental clinic that is set to open later this year.
This time last year, DPR Construction launched a monthly blog series dedicated to sharing stories of women who build great things in honor of International Women’s Day, International Women’s Week, Women in Construction Week and Women’s History Month.
Construction is a traditionally male-dominated industry that is only 9.3 percent women (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Since spring 2017, the Celebrating Women Who Build blog series has told stories of women who are successfully executing complex, technical projects for some of the world's most progressive and admired companies. The goal has always been to help connect and inspire women in the industry as they build meaningful careers—whether it’s as a project engineer, a superintendent, a project executive, an architect or an owner.
The experiences, challenges and ambitions of the Women Who Build featured in the series resonated with people across the country, who responded with encouragement, support and excitement. Many reached out to share how the determination, strength and spirit of women they read about positively impacted their day, life or career path.
DPR’s initial yearlong campaign culminates with a video, but the Celebrating Women Who Build blog series will continue, just like our efforts to create a strong, inclusive environment where everyone thrives.
DPR recently broke ground on The Foundry, a mixed-use project
for Cielo Property Group in East Austin designed by Sixthriver Architects.
Thirty thousand sq. ft. of its workspace will become DPR’s new Austin office, bringing the team closer to projects and customers
downtown. Building great things in Texas since 1994, DPR’s staff in Austin has
grown by 50% since 2015, causing the team to outgrow its current office space.
“We were looking for office space and Cielo was looking for a
contractor to build the building as well as a tenant, so it seemed like a
perfect opportunity to extend an already successful partnership,” said
DPR’s Matt Hoglund, member of DPR’s management
committee who leads operations in the central region. “The location is ideal
for a number of reasons, including providing us with an opportunity to create an
environment where our employees will be able to take advantage of green space
and other amenities.”
With its interior designed by IA Interior Architects, DPR’s
office at The Foundry is aiming to become one of the first commercial office
spaces in Austin to earn net-zero energy certification from the International Living Future
Institute, meaning it will produce as much or more energy as it consumes. It
also aims to become one of the first spaces in Austin to earn WELL
Certification from the International WELL Building Institute, a designation
that recognizes buildings that improve health and human experience through
“This project is all about creating an office space that
promotes wellness for our employees and at the same time ensures the building
is efficient,” Hoglund said. “That is the reason we plan to seek the WELL
Building Certification, which includes everything from the food brought in for
employees to access to fitness programs.”
Opening in spring 2019, The Foundry will become not only a great
place to work, but serve as DPR’s home in Austin for years to come.
When Pat McDowell was a kid, she thought she was going to be a “mad scientist” when she grew up. With a desk covered with pipettes, test tubes and beakers, she conducted her own experiments for hours and hours–never enough to satisfy her curious mind.
Today, she builds the laboratory and research facilities where life-saving medicine and therapies are brought to market. As a MEP coordinator at DPR, she specializes in complex and ever-changing MEP systems in life sciences facilities, made particularly challenging because of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements and procedures. In most situations, the products being created in the facilities she builds will eventually end up in a person’s body, giving her work extra meaning. To her, MEP systems are “alive,” and once they are installed, it’s just the beginning. McDowell’s passion lies in making sure the systems–whether it is mechanical, electrical or piping–are integrated so facilities run as safely and efficiently as possible.
McDowell joined DPR in 1994 after she graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo with a degree in construction management, because she was attracted to the company’s entrepreneurial culture and opportunities for growth. Early in her career, she had trouble initially convincing customers and craft workers in the field that she knew what she was doing. She chooses to drive a DPR truck because she has encountered people who have difficulty accepting that she works for a general contractor and belongs onsite–especially guards at security gates–while she is driving her personal car. Over time, she built a reputation as a hands-on, well-respected builder, earning the trust of her teams and customers.
“There aren’t a lot of people who do what I do, who look how I do,” she said. “Trust and respect are built by helping each other. We’re all one team, so something as simple as giving people a heads up of what’s to come, so we don’t get ourselves backed into a tight situation, goes a long way.”
In her nearly 24 years with DPR, McDowell has grown with DPR, working on several large-scale projects, including:
UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, an award-winning 878,000-sq.ft. ground-up hospital complex renowned for its integrated project delivery (IPD) approach and state-of-the-art patient care.
McDowell remembers how in the early days of DPR, everybody worked across multiple roles, creating well-rounded talent and teams of dynamic seller-doers. After years of growth and change, she’s seen DPR’s unique, empowered culture remain intact and provide people with even more opportunities to develop and grow. Now, her focus is on sharing her experience and passing knowledge on to the next generation of builders.
Speaking at a Girls, Inc. after-school workshop about careers in the construction industry, McDowell told the group of third to fifth graders, “Never settle thinking that you know everything, because every day you can learn something new. Be curious, and always try to learn just a little bit more. You never know when you will have your next breakthrough.”
It is this constant curiosity and desire to learn, develop and grow that has driven McDowell throughout her entire career. And every day she goes to work, doing what she loves, she hopes to teach and inspire others to become the builders, engineers or mad scientists that they dream to be.
To honor the milestone, which occurred by drilling the first production auger cast pile, the team celebrated with all project partners in the Big Room, a collaborative space that physically brings together designers, builders, trade partners and facility operators.
“After a year and four months in preconstruction, we are extremely excited to celebrate the start of construction. We wouldn’t be here today without all our tremendous design and trade partners. Everyone in this room should be very proud to have played a part in this project so far, and I can’t wait to see the project built,” said DPR’s Tim Kueht, during a cake toast to kick off the celebration.
Prior to the ceremony, the entire Big Room team attended a presentation given by UCSF Medical Center’s nurses, doctors and researchers. These monthly presentations inspire and help the project team better understand the greater impact the facility will have on advancing the full spectrum of brain health through research, education and patient care.
It takes courage to go with your gut, muster up the nerve to follow your passion and make a major career change. That’s exactly what Irma Jauregui did in 2005, when she quit her job as a first grade teacher in the underserved neighborhood of Compton, California to pursue a dream she’d had since college to work in design or construction.
After double-majoring in architecture and Spanish at Wellesley College, Jauregui became equally interested in teaching, and went on to earn her master’s from Loyola Marymount University in education. Growing up in an underserved community in East Los Angeles, Jauregui chose to teach in a similar area, where there was a shortage of teachers. Setting the groundwork for students to be successful throughout the rest of their educational and professional careers was her way to give back to the community, and helping talented students create better lives for themselves was her greatest reward.
“Teaching is a selfless career; you give so much of yourself to your students. For me, the design and construction industry was always in the back of my mind as my own personal interest and passion. If I didn’t explore it, I knew I would have regretted it,” she said.
The transition between two very different industries was bridged by her first project: a large expansion and renovation of a community college, as Jauregui connects especially with buildings that will become spaces for learning and educating the next generation. She joined DPR in 2015, attracted to the entrepreneurial culture where people with diverse skillsets and expertise could make a difference with their ideas and hard work. The team of smart people with strong values appreciated different backgrounds and experiences–and saw her first career in education as an asset, not a drawback.
As a project manager based out of DPR’s Newport Beach office, Jauregui now manages cost control on a 73-acre corporate campus project in Irvine, California, completing in January 2018. In both fields of education and construction, proper planning and always keeping sight of priorities is crucial to success. Jauregui boils down both of her careers to helping people reach their goals, whether it is a first grader learning to read, or a large technology client building a corporate campus as safely and efficiently as possible.
This summer, as part of DPR’s pilot Build Up high school internship program, which offers under-resourced yet highly qualified high school students interested in STEM careers real-life professional experience on a jobsite, Jauregui mentored high school graduate Jessica Reynoso. Reynoso, now a freshman at California State University, Fullerton, grew up in the same East LA neighborhood as Jauregui and even graduated from the same high school.
Seeing Reynoso’s passion, grit and determination to succeed in a civil engineering career despite challenging circumstances, is what motivates Jauregui the most. As Reynoso’s primary mentor, the two frequently talked about career paths, goals and life. The most important advice Jauregui gave her intern was to take care of herself.
“If you come from a challenging environment, and you are dealing with a lot of things at home, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself,” Jauregui said. “Self-care is so important to how well you can do your job, take your classes and move yourself forward every day. Even if you have to take care of your family, you can’t take care of them if you can’t take care of yourself first.”
Jauregui’s favorite part of being an educator was constantly teaching, learning and growing, something she finds at DPR as well. She has opportunities to teach, mentor and help others achieve their goals, while feeling constantly challenged to grow her expertise in DPR’s culture of continuous learning.
She looks back on the moment she decided to make the leap from education to construction with no regrets, and wants to help others overcome their fear of change or failure when they find their career calling their attention. It takes courage to pursue a dream–and she has more than enough of that to share.
As an architecture and interior design student at Auburn University, Kali Bonnell always asked, “But can you actually build that?” Seeing her natural practicality and interest in constructability, Bonnell’s professors recommended that she look into construction or engineering. Construction made sense to her. Because her grandfather was an electrician, throughout her childhood, she learned to appreciate all that went into building.
When she fell in love with construction management, she never looked back. Bonnell began her career at DPR in 2008 as an intern in Atlanta. After gaining expertise as a project engineer with DPR’s Special Services Group (SSG), which focuses on small to mid-size projects, Bonnell wanted to experience larger projects and traveled to Clemson, South Carolina to work on Clemson University’s 100,000-sq.-ft. life science facility, designed to support scientific research activities and engage students via training and education.
Early in her career, she found her biggest challenge was advocating for herself and feeling confident in what she was saying, especially when others disagreed with her. Growing both her skills and her confidence in DPR’s flat organizational structure, Bonnell felt like she had a say in what she was able to work on and how she was able to develop her technical expertise.
She raised her hand to move to Tampa, then Orlando, to work on advanced tech projects, telling her leadership teams, “let me take this, let me grow, let me learn.” Each opportunity helped build her experience to prepare her for the Boca Raton Regional Hospital Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health and Wellness Institute project, her first job as a full-fledged project manager. The 90 percent female design-build team of architects, designers, builders and owner’s representatives shared a vision for creating the 45,800-sq.-ft. comprehensive women’s center with the patient in mind. With the institute serving five unique women’s health service lines, each discipline’s professional and personal experiences informed the overall design of the project.
“It was the tipping point for me,” said Bonnell. “It was so impactful to see the smart, technical, hard-working women on our team, all working toward the same goal of safely and efficiently building an amazing place–the place we all go to for our checkups. We know how scary and stressful healthcare can be, and every detail was designed and built with the patient in mind.”
As she is now working on an HCA vertical expansion and central energy plant upgrade that will add two floors to an existing hospital in Florida, Bonnell believes that ultimately, her job comes down to understanding others’ perspectives and intentions. She constantly balances what other team members are planning and thinking to solve problems proactively, instead of reactively–a tenet that has guided her own career path as well.
It’s important to Bonnell to foster DPR’s culture even as the organization experiences tremendous growth. In Ft. Lauderdale, DPR has grown from 20 salaried employees in 2014 to 60 salaried employees in 2017, and increased its revenue from $15 million to $150 million in three years. Helping to spearhead people practices, Bonnell focuses on making sure that people develop and grow, get the correct training and are set up for success. Whether it’s going out to jobsites or talking to teams, she wants each person to know that his or her job is an integral part of building great things.
So today, when anyone asks the question, “can we actually build that?” Her answer is: yes.
After 1992’s Hurricane Iniki, the strongest and most destructive hurricane to hit the Hawaiian Islands in recorded history, Whitney Dorn (then a construction management major at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) headed across the Pacific Ocean to help rebuild Kauai. The six months she spent pouring concrete, bending rebar, performing demolition, framing and working as a hod carrier confirmed for her that she was going to school for exactly what she wanted to do for the rest of her career. She wanted to be a builder.
“I could really picture myself being in the construction industry,” she said. “When you’re working in the field, you can see the fruits of your labor. That, combined with the constant problem solving, is what really attracted me to what I do.”
She joined DPR after graduating, and spent the first 15 years of her career in operations. In 2008, she began leading DPR’s sustainability initiative to help customers develop and implement the best strategies through experienced people, a collaborative methodology, and custom tools to address the triple bottom line: environmental, social and economic.
After five years of educating customers and DPR teams about building sustainable structures, Dorn transitioned back to an operations role as a project executive. She has since worked on notable projects, including a wireless phone company’s headquarters, Torrey Pines Science Park and a 73-acre corporate campus project in Irvine, California, which is completing in January 2018.
“There’s nothing like being on the jobsite. You spend so much time with your team, and you’re not only building great buildings, but building a great team at the same time,” she said.
Dorn sees trust and respect as the foundation for any highly functioning team. "It’s about respecting what all the different roles on a jobsite bring to the table, abolishing a lack of trust, and figuring out how to move forward in a positive way together." Using a football metaphor, she tells her teams that they can be the running back, and she’ll be the blocker, taking out the obstacles so they can do their best work.
She has taken out many of her own obstacles, as well. When she meets her customers for the first time, she often finds that they are expecting a man to run their project. She doesn’t take it personally; she moves forward by never questioning what she brings to the table and uses her own technical expertise to deliver her projects successfully.
“I know others are looking at me to see how I deal with situations, particularly the younger women. It’s very important to me to set a good example, and give them the confidence that this is a great career, something that they can do and make work for their lives,” she said.
Since 2003, Dorn has been mentoring youths through the San Diego ACE Mentor program, and is taking over as chairwoman this upcoming year. She also participated in DPR’s pilot high school internship program, offering under-resourced yet highly qualified high school students interested in STEM careers real-life professional experience on a jobsite. Dorn and other members of her project team mentored Jessica Reynoso, a high schooler from East Los Angeles who wants to become an engineer, exposing her to career paths available in the construction industry.
Through her work both “on and off the field,” she hopes the next generation of builders will find their moment–like she did while she was laboring in Kauai. She hopes they can see themselves in this industry, picture the career paths ahead of them, and know that building great things is what they want to do for the rest of their lives.
In spring 2006, Landry Watson was in Fallujah, finishing up his last combat deployment as a lieutenant commander and operations officer of a U.S. Navy SEAL squadron. During his five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, his teams suffered no casualties–all his teammates were able to come home safely to their families.
By the summer of 2006, Watson, who graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in construction science, was in San Diego, sending out resumes and trying to start a new career after over ten years serving in the Navy’s primary special operations force. Although he had led platoons and task units in complex and dangerous combat situations, while managing an ever-changing mix of time, resources and people, he found most companies weren’t willing to take a chance on him. He was an unproven variable in his late 30s, starting a second career from scratch, a humbling experience for the decorated military officer.
“It’s DPR’s culture to create an entrepreneurial organization where people can make a difference with their ideas and hard work. DPR saw my raw talent and potential, believed I could develop and grow, took a chance on me and empowered me to be a contributor,” he said.
Now a project manager specializing in sustainable design and construction, Watson helps customers develop and implement the best strategies to build sustainable structures, improving efficiency, employee productivity and marketability. A self-proclaimed conservationist and environmentalist, his passion for sustainability was influenced in part by his time spent in the military. Serving overseas, he saw how other societies lived, deeply contrasted with the freedom, opportunities and social responsibility we often take for granted in the U.S.
“In these countries where we were fighting, their primary resource is the oil that fuels the economy and the rest of the world. As a country, if we want to continue to be a global leader, we can’t continue to be dependent on traditional sources of energy and resources that we don’t have,” he said.
One lesson that Watson learned in the military that translates to his career today is that being a leader is less about having every single answer yourself, and more about taking care of people and empowering their success.
“It’s trusting the expertise of the teammate that is most likely to have the answer, usually the person who works on the issue in question every day. It isn’t wise to think that you are smarter than your subcontractor or one of your platoonmates; that doesn’t work in construction or the military. They know best how to solve your problems–you just have to trust them,” he said.
On a jobsite, the most important variables to manage are time, resources and people, just like in the military. Watson’s understanding of how to triage all the tasks that need to be completed, while keeping people safe and overcoming obstacles that come in the way of sequence comes from his first career as a SEAL. Both fields of work have their own inherent dangers that require all the pieces to operate in tandem, like a finely tuned machine, to prevent injury, improve efficiency and successfully complete a project or mission.
And just like his time in the military, at the end of the day when Watson sends every member of his team back home safely to his or her family, he will also send them back to a world that is a little better than when they left it.
DPR’s Andrea Weisheimer once walked into a meeting she was leading, and a subcontractor asked her if she was there to take notes. She replied, “No. Are you?”
Weisheimer and five other professionals, who work across the AEC industry, recently spoke on a Women Who Build panel in Austin, discussing how to connect, inspire, develop and advance women in the industry as they build meaningful careers—whether it’s as a PE, a PX, an architect or an owner.
Melissa Neslund, Armbrust & Brown; Janki DePalma, DCI Engineers; Katie Blair, Charles Schwab; Pollyanna Little, STG Design–along with DPR’s Weisheimer and Bryan Lofton--shared experiences and career advice with more than 60 attendees. The discussion was focused on promoting change in a traditionally male-dominated industry that is only 9.3 percent women (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
The issue of the dearth of women in construction, as well as many other STEM fields, is complex, and there is not one simple answer. A confluence of factors ranging from unconscious bias learned at an early age, to a lack of women in the STEM pipeline, to recruiting, retention and development of women in technical and leadership positions will not likely be solved by any one quick fix.
What the panel provided was a forum for sharing experiences and supporting each other. Weisheimer spoke about how she often feels the need to prove herself for people to accept that she knows what she’s doing, a sentiment echoed by the other women.
“You’re always trying to be a little ahead of the expectations of your role,” she said. “When you learn the technical details of how to build, it gets to the point where people do respect you, regardless of gender.”
Learning how to advocate for themselves was a common theme among the panelists. DePalma remembered how she moved to Austin from the Bay Area without a job in 2008, the height of the economic recession. She pitched an idea for DCI Engineers to hire her for a two-month trial in a business development role to help its fledgling office make connections in the local market. Nearly nine years later, she has helped DCI triple its office size and secure projects that have changed Austin’s skyline.
Neslund agreed that advocating for herself has been an essential skill in her success throughout her career in land use and entitlements at Armbrust & Brown, PLLC.
“I have always advocated for the promotion, or the extra resources I need for my team. I have advocated for respect, walking into a room and giving my 150 percent effort,” she said. “Even if you don’t have all the answers, speak with confidence. Believe in yourself, show that you care, and advocate for what you deserve in your career.”
The panelists discussed letting go of the sense of perfection that many of us put on ourselves. No one is perfect all the time, and many of them had to embrace the fact that they are enough in every one of their roles–as builders, designers and family members.
“The hardest thing with confidence is that we are always comparing ourselves with everybody else. Be unique, set yourself apart, and go for it,” said Weisheimer. “The biggest mistake is not asking for help if you need it.”
Leaders like Weisheimer and the others on the panel showed the next generation of builders that success in the AEC industry doesn’t necessarily mean looking like everyone else, or fitting into any stereotypes. As Weisheimer likes to say, “be confident, be bold and be brilliant.”