When the student team from Tuskegee University in Alabama took the stage at the 2020 International Builders' Show (IBS) in Las Vegas, they made history — becoming the first all-female, all-African-American team in the competition's near 30-year history. They also showcase a growing diversity in the home building industry and highlight the next generation of possible industry leaders.
Dr. Charner Rodgers, Tuskegee associate professor at the Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science and Management, said in her 15 years in the construction education arena she has seen her classes grow from zero females enrolled in the curriculum to females representing about a third of her classrooms. And Rodgers said it's not just happening at Tuskegee or her former school, Kennesaw State University, but across much of the industry, according to research she's done on women in construction. Rodgers is also vice-chair of the NAHB Student Chapters Advisory Board.
"I'm seeing a lot more student involvement, particularly women, across the schools, and more women involved in the field have told me they are choosing to do so because somebody told them they couldn't," Rodgers said. She also said the increase in women and African-Americans being portrayed more frequently in mainstream media — for example, on HGTV shows — has helped to counteract the idea of a male-dominated field.
Networking and Support Through HBAs and PWB
The Greater Montgomery Home Builders Association (GMHBA) and its Professional Women in Building (PWB) Council, along with several other local home builder associations (HBAs) and individual builders, were key supporters of the NAHB student chapter at Tuskegee. The group encouraged the Tuskegee student team, which was comprised of 12 juniors and seniors from the Architecture and Construction Management programs, by helping to fine-tune its presentations, including providing constructive criticism that the group used wisely.
"Our then HBA president Doug Furhman and I met Charner Rodgers at IBS in 2019 and worked with her to start the student chapter at Tuskegee. In fact, our local sponsored the chapter and waived the membership fees when they joined. When Rodgers was interested in getting a student team together to send to IBS, our PWB Council got involved further because it was an all-female team," GMHBA Executive Officer Angela Allen said.
Allen said the PWB Council and HBA held fundraising events, including a construction competition for high schoolers held at Tuskegee and run by the student chapter there. PWB Councils across Alabama and individual builders — including NAHB Third Vice Chair Alicia Huey, a builder from Birmingham, Ala. — also sponsored each student for them to be able to travel and compete at IBS. Huey is a former chair of NAHB's PWB Council.
The team from Tuskegee, an historically black college and university (HBCU), won the Rookie of the Year award and placed seventh overall in a field of 40 at IBS 2020.
Rodgers and others said student chapters play a key role in bridging the gap between students and the industry, offering first-hand exposure to the world of home building and the important tool of networking.
NAHB's membership includes home builders, multifamily developers, remodelers and professionals who work in other closely related fields such as mortgage financing and building products. The experts said being able to network with such a diverse group of industry representatives helps showcase the many realms of the home building industry.
How to Expand Outreach
Dr. Andrea Ofori-Boadu, assistant professor in the Department of Built Environment within the College of Science and Technology at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A &T) in Greensboro, is a faculty advisor (along with Dr. Robert Pyle and Jeff Guernier) for the NAHB student competition team and chapter at her university.
Ofori-Boadu also serves as a mentor to female construction students through support from NAHB, the National Science Foundation (NSF), East Coast Construction Services (ECCS) and the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), and has secured scholarships, internships, mentorships and other professional development resources for her mentees through the associations. She is not seeing as much of an increase in women's involvement in the industry as she would like to, noting the industry as a whole can do more to promote itself to girls in order to see more of an influx.
"With the exception of some science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) high schools, we are not seeing many girls gain career-inspiring exposure to the home building industry at a young age," Ofori-Boadu said.
She suggests more outreach programs that educate elementary, middle and high school girls about careers in the construction industry, using evidence-based strategies to inspire girls to seriously consider architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) careers.
"Many of the women enrolling in undergraduate AEC programs are from families that own AEC businesses or have close ties with members of the AEC workforce," she said.
Since 2014, Ofori-Boadu has directed her "STEAM ACTIVATED!" outreach program for middle-school girls with interests in STEM and an emphasis on AEC careers. Since 2019, this outreach program, as well as the residential construction certificate program at N.C. A&T, has been funded by NAHB, the National Housing Endowment (NHE) and True Homes USA.
N.C. A&T, also an HBCU, was the recipient of a $100,000 Homebuilding Education Leadership Program (HELP) grant from NHE in 2018. NHE awarded its first grant to an HBCU in 2007, when the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore received $100,000 to establish a residential construction curriculum.
Through her research work, Ofori-Boadu aims to increase the number of women in male-dominated AEC professions to help reduce workforce shortages and improve gender diversity in the industry.
There are currently more than 140 student chapters at high schools, two-year programs and four-year colleges working with HBAs across the country to ensure that young people, their parents and counselors know that careers in the construction industry can be a great alternative for students who may not be cut out for a four-year college degree. The path is also one that can leave those individuals that choose to pursue an apprenticeship program or other skilled trades training program without crippling debt like many four-year college degree programs.
Supporting NAHB student chapters means supporting the next generation of skilled labor and, in turn, the next generation of leaders. NAHB's PWB Council and its chapter councils are working to increase the number of women in the residential construction workforce.
For more on NAHB's PWB Council, including information on the council's Building Hope Scholarship and the Building Strategies for Success Scholarship through the National Housing Endowment, visit nahb.org.
As part of NAHB's PWB Week 2020, sponsored by Lowe’s For Pros, we are recognizing and celebrating the important contributions of women in the residential construction industry and efforts to diversify it. Please follow along with daily blog posts and share our social media posts with the hashtag #PWBWeek2020.