October 15, 2013 8:30AM
As an instructor in Pittsburg State University’s School of Construction, Jenny McCool-O’Dell has seen the increase in the number of women pursuing careers in the field firsthand.
“While women are still in the minority in the construction industry, our numbers are definitely going up,” McCool-O’Dell said. “It’s not just a career for men anymore.”
Spreading that message and empowering women in the field is the goal of the new southeast Kansas chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction, of which McCool-O’Dell is the first president. The SEK chapter will conduct its official chartering banquet on Friday, Oct. 18, at Downstream Casino Resort.
“The growth of construction in the area, as well as an increasing number of female students in the construction management program in the School of Construction at PSU brought to the forefront the need for a woman-focused construction association in the area,” said Beverly Sauerwein, NAWIC Region 6 director.
The new chapter will serve communities in southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri. McCool-O’Dell said the group’s main focus is bringing together regional women in construction for “networking and mentoring.”
“Our overall goal is to give women in the field and students in construction programs a chance to come together to talk about their experiences and learn from one another,” she said. “It’s about building that camaraderie and empowering women in the industry.”
Shontae Cobb, a junior construction management major from Kansas City, Mo., is the president of the Women in Construction student group, which is now a part of the SEK chapter of NAWIC. She said she’s excited about the regional chapter and the added attention it brings to women in construction.
“Having the new chapter is a great opportunity to encourage women to enter the field and know they can be successful,” Cobb said. “We want women to know that you can go into construction management and still be feminine. You can still be a woman.”
Jim Otter, chair of the PSU School of Construction, said the increased interest in construction among women is due in large part to the women who have found success in the field and have shared their stories.
“The success of our female graduates in the construction industry has increased interest and empowered many women to enter the field who may not have otherwise,” Otter said. “These women serve as role models, and that’s really what we’ve needed for so long.
“For a long time, we had a bunch of guys trying to figure out how to get more women in the field,” Otter said. “Now, with more and more women having success and stepping up to encourage others, we’ve seen a great deal of movement in this area. It’s great to see.”
McCool-O’Dell said Pitt State’s focus on the management side of construction has led more women to consider construction as a career.
“Construction isn’t just about hammers and nails,” she said. “It’s a big industry with many different facets, and women are increasingly playing an important role in many of those areas.”
Meetings of the southeast Kansas chapter of NAWIC will take place on the second Monday of each month and alternate between Pittsburg and Joplin, Mo., locations.
For more information about NAWIC, visit www.nawic.org.