In 2016, DPR’s Gretchen Kinsella gave birth to her daughter at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix (BUMCP), in one of the very same rooms that she helped build back in 2004. Gretchen is DPR’s youngest project executive in the Phoenix region, managing the largest project that DPR has ever built in the area—the $318-million BUMCP.
When she started at DPR as an intern in 2002, Kinsella’s first full-time project at DPR was Banner Good Samaritan Hospital (now BUMCP). She was given a lot of responsibility, because she asked for it. She continued to raise her hand for challenging projects as she progressed to becoming a project engineer, project manager and project executive.
And 15 years later, she chose an OB/GYN that delivers at BUMCP because she felt there was no better place for her personally to bring her daughter into this world. She was coming full circle, with the child she gave birth to at the site of the project she helped create.
Today, Gretchen reflects on her special moment, and shares how passion for her work empowers her to be her best self, making her the best mom that she can be.
Read Gretchen’s full story, “How to Ask for What You Want and Find Your Voice in a Male-Dominated Industry,” on ENR.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Deepti Bhadkamkar has always been driven by the impact of what she does. When she looks at a building, she sees more than a structure; she sees a place that will impact people with countless ripple effects. She sees stem cell labs that will significantly impact the way we understand and treat disorders and diseases; she sees world-class hospitals that will save children’s lives.
Most of all, she sees potential. A project manager specializing in complex MEP systems across core markets, Bhadkamkar’s passion is figuring out ways to make these labs, data centers and hospitals smarter and more efficient for the people who will eventually occupy them.
Since she joined DPR in 2005 as an intern, she has been continuously learning and honing her skills, as MEP systems and the ways to manage them are ever-changing. Bhadkamkar has worked on several large-scale projects throughout her career, 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.
She is currently working on Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, where she is managing MEP systems for the entire hospital. The expansion project will more than double the size of the current facility, adding 521,000 sq. ft. and allowing the hospital to meet increased demand for pediatric and obstetric care as the Bay Area population grows.
Early in her career as a project engineer, Bhadkamkar struggled with people initially not taking her seriously. She made sure she always did her research ahead of time so she could speak with complete certainty about complex MEP systems to people who sometimes had double the experience that she did. Over time, as she built her technical expertise, this confidence came more naturally. She never hesitates to ask questions, rely on resources or step out of her comfort zone to learn something new in the field.
“Everyone has insecurities or biases, but whatever it is, just focus on what you love to do, and give your 100 percent full commitment to it,” she said. “Don’t get too bogged down with perceptions because ultimately, they are yours. I always treat myself as a leader and an engineer, and so does everyone else.”
The proudest moment of her career happened when a superintendent she has worked closely with on a few big projects pointed to her and told an engineer, “You have to be like her.”
As a member of the Bay Area’s Project Engineer (PE) leadership group, as well as the MEP leadership group, Bhadkamkar helps mentor and develop curriculum that over 100 PEs in the Bay Area and over 50 MEP experts around the country can benefit from as they learn, develop and grow.
“I personally wanted to share with them the experiences I had, and offer them the same insights that I have learned over time,” she said. “I want to teach them something that will have an impact on them, and I learn so many things from them as well. Working with our next generation of builders gives me such a great energy to keep going.”
Bhadkamkar is passionate about anything that makes a difference in somebody’s life–whether it is mentorship or building highly integrated smart buildings that enhance the human experience. It’s not just the structures that Bhadkamkar builds that create ripple effects of positive impacts on countless people over time–she does, too.
When Lauren Snedeker was 22 years old, her manager pulled her aside and told her, “You’re wasting your life; you are meant to do so much more than what you are now. You need to build.”
After spending three years at Georgia Tech as a chemical engineering major, Snedeker realized that she hated the field in which she had planned to spend her whole career. A very social person, the solitary nature of research stifled her. Without strong career guidance, she quit school and fell into an assortment of temporary jobs, one of which was answering phones at a construction company in Atlanta.
Sitting at the front desk, Snedeker–whose mind naturally craves challenges and problems to solve–began offering her help to the estimators and accountants in her office. With the encouragement of her colleagues, she earned her B.S. in construction management with a minor in business administration from Southern Polytechnic State University, and eventually returned to Georgia Tech for her master’s in building construction and integrated facility management. She became a project engineer, and never looked back.
Since she joined DPR in 2013, Snedeker has been a crucial contributor to growing DPR’s relationship with the University of Georgia (UGA). Now a project manager, Snedeker has worked on UGA’s Terry College of Business, UGA’s Indoor Athletic Facility and is currently managing UGA’s design-build improvements to the west end zone at Sanford Stadium, the tenth largest college football stadium in the country.
Snedeker embraces the challenges of renovating the stands, locker room, recruit club, plaza and concourse area of UGA’s beloved Bulldogs, all while over 94,000 curious fans flood the stadium for this season’s six home games. Since the project is scheduled for completion in summer 2018, the DPR team has been carefully planning how to demobilize the entire jobsite, which is centrally located near a student center, main dining hall and several dorms, for each game day when football season starts in early September.
“Seventeen years ago, if you had told me I would trade high heels for steel-toed boots and safety glasses, and that I would be a contractor who builds things, I would have told you that you were nuts–but I love and am very fulfilled by what I do,” she said.
She proudly remembers the first day she saw the completed UGA Indoor Athletic Facility, the first project she led in a project manager role from start to finish. The DPR team kept the facilities active and usable by the student-athletes and coaching staff 24 hours a day. Their late nights mirrored the work ethic of the UGA coaches, who from their offices overlooking the practice field were able to gain a tremendous respect for all it took to build their new home.
The collaborative team environment is one of Snedeker’s favorite aspects of her job. She believes no person on a team can be a success without the success of their teammates.
“One of my biggest rules is that I would never ask anyone to do something I’m not willing to do myself. If the PE’s are sweeping floors, I am sweeping floors. Everyone is a team, and I am no better or worse than anyone who works next to me in the trailer,” she said.
Leading by example is a tenet that drives Snedeker in all that she does. As Atlanta’s intern champion and college recruiter for the UGA campus, she is passionate about mentoring the next generation of builders. Investing her time and expertise into a young person’s career in turn makes her invested in their success, and she still keeps in touch with interns that she worked with many years ago.
Snedeker believes that if she can make a difference in a young person’s life, the impact could create ripple effects for the rest of his or her life. When she was young and unsure about what she wanted to do with her career, she didn’t have a strong mentor to turn to–and she wants her interns to always know that they have her.
Fifteen years ago, she was right to realize that she was meant to build. But she has gone on to build so much more than buildings; she builds relationships, creates teams and develops people in the same way she approaches every project–she builds them to last.
Andrea Weisheimer was born with an inherent desire to create, to build, to do. Growing up with a passion for painting and design, she thought she would pursue a career in art until she discovered the construction engineering management program at Oregon State University.
Now a project executive in DPR’s Austin office, Weisheimer uses her art background to guide and connect construction and design teams, embracing the challenge of taking a rendering or sketch and figuring out how to technically bring it to life. It is this diversity of skillset that brings fresh ideas to her jobsites.
“Art has always been a passion of mine, but after first trying industrial engineering, I decided I didn’t want to be behind a desk all day. I needed to find something that could combine business with engineering and technical skills,” said Weisheimer.
When a college advisor suggested construction management, she asked, “Do I look like I would work in construction?” but gave it a try and fell in love with it.
After graduating and starting her career as a concrete field engineer, she laid out specific goals for herself. She wanted to learn how to build a high rise (she would build the tallest building in the world, if she could) and become a project manager. With a focus on high rise construction, and a penchant for balancing the structural design complexities of tall buildings with creating cost efficiencies for her customers, Weisheimer became a project manager by the age of 27. She asked herself, what’s next?
DPR was next. Since joining DPR in 2015, Weisheimer has continued with her passion for building commercial high rises, including Third + Shoal, a 29-story, 345,000-sq.-ft. Class-AA corporate office space in downtown Austin. The project, which features 24,000-sq.-ft. floor plates and Austin’s first ‘smart and connected’ building system, is expected to be completed in 2018. As construction booms in the Texas state capital, DPR continues to change the city’s skyline, including the ground-up construction of Colorado Tower, the J.W. Marriott, the Aloft/Element Hotel, University of Texas Replacement Office Building, and more.
“Just being a part of this industry makes me proud,” she said. “It makes me proud to see others succeed, and I love to see others get passionate about building.”
Weisheimer has been a crucial contributor to developing DPR's Build Up high school internship program, which gives under-resourced students with an interest in construction or engineering a chance to work at a jobsite for the summer, exposing them to career opportunities available in the industry. She helped create curriculum for the interns’ initial tasks: writing daily journals, interviewing different roles on the jobsite, and operating in mock scenarios to get a sense of how to overcome typical challenges on a project.
She personally mentors a 17-year-old high schooler named Anais, who–just like her–loves art and even participates in art competitions. When people come into Weisheimer’s life, she figures it is for a reason and she sticks with them. She plans to mentor and guide Anais through her college education and beyond.
Weisheimer wants women to know that it is OK to let go of insecurities and follow your passions. Through her involvement with Girlstart and Girls Empowerment Network (GEN) Austin, organizations that focus on increasing interest and engagement in STEM fields, she wants to inspire young women to be confident, be bold and be brilliant.
“There aren’t a lot of women in this industry, and I can see the passion in Anais’ eyes,” she said. “I want to share my experiences with her, and I want to show her, ‘this is how we build!’ Construction is an option for women, too.”
Every day on the jobsite brings a new challenge for Weisheimer, whether it is figuring out how to construct a high rise double helix parking garage, install complex exterior skin systems, or integrate building system controls. When she goes home, she sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night, inspired with an idea for a sketch of a renovation project or a landscape design.
So she gets up in the pitch dark, and just like everything else in her life–she creates, she builds, she does.