Student club helps inspire Virginia Tech alumna to build online community for women in construction
With women comprising only 10 percent of people working in construction, it may seem difficult for young, female professionals entering the construction field to find their voice.
That's why Kathryn Hart, a 2016 alumna from the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, a joint venture between the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and the College of Engineering, created Space to Build. Space to Build is an online community for women in construction to network, share, and grow with each other. The organization brings its community together through various platforms including an active Instagram page of nearly 1,000 followers. Space to Build also features a podcast that has been downloaded and streamed in 22 different countries and features weekly interviews and casual discussions with women in the fields of architecture, engineering, and construction.
“Women on construction sites can easily feel isolated and miss having another woman to go to for advice or support. That is not to say we don’t appreciate our male co-workers who have supported and mentored us, because we do. There are just situations where having another female’s perspective makes more sense,” said Hart.
Space to Build provides resources for young female professionals in construction. They learn from other professionals who share their experience with difficult or unexpected situations in the field. The community also celebrates each other’s victories and accomplishments like earning internships and developing female-positive curriculums about construction for parents to share with their children.
It has not been easy growing and maintaining her community, as Hart juggles Space to Build along with her full-time job as a superintendent for a general contractor in Northern Virginia and the Northeast Region Professional Development and Education Chair for National Association of Women in Construction. However, she finds the spark of motivation to keep moving forward as she receives an influx of touching success stories from young women in the community who feel like they have been given permission to pursue the things that they're interested in the construction industry. Hart has always known the importance of peer support in construction ever since she was a student at Virginia Tech.
During her sophomore year in the Virginia Tech building construction program, Hart noticed that construction professionals who came to speak constantly stressed the importance of and their desire to support the students. They wanted to help by providing real-world demonstrations of the field of construction. Hart felt drawn to the question of how to urge her fellow students to come together and actively support one another.
She was given the opportunity to create a sustainable project in one of her courses. This is where Building Women in Construction (BWIC) started. Once her proposal was approved, she teamed up with the first executive board of BWIC. The team contacted Tanyel Bulbul, associate professor at the Department of Building Construction, about becoming the club advisor.
BWIC provides resources for women interested in construction careers to help them succeed. Some of the opportunities offered include hosting panels, building support systems with fellow students, and providing opportunities to connect women in the construction industry. All of which Hart helped establish and continue after she graduated.
“Hart is very comfortable with people. She understands their ideas, and she's very skilled in describing her ideas as well, which adds to her success,” Bulbul said.
Much of Hart’s success is from the building construction program’s focus on collaboration. Projects and presentations from students are often reviewed by outside industry professionals, and underclassmen are encouraged to provide feedback on senior projects as well.
Hart parallels this collaborative attitude with how the construction field operates. Along with the abundant networking opportunities, Hart believes that this is what sets Virginia Tech’s construction program apart.
Hart’s bold ideas continue in Space to Build as she plans to expand and innovate in the near future, with hopes of migrating her social media community to a new platform that will provide chat functionality and other opportunities for people to directly connect with each other. Expanding on the podcast, Hart is working to collaborate with other podcasters to produce a construction miniseries. Hart is also looking to host webinars and events with special guest speakers and panel discussions.
“Now is always the time for anyone to reevaluate their situation,” said Hart. “If there's a type of project to start or skill to learn, we should find ways to pursue it, and always keep exploring options.”
Anyone interested in getting involved with the Building Women in Construction student organization can visit its Facebook page or email BWIC.VT@gmail.com. To get involved with Space to Build, visit the website for more information.
- Written by Jared Cole