Women in Construction: June Whipple is having fun in her happy place

Kitchell Project Manager June Whipple likes to have fun.

Since the third grade, June knew she wanted to be an architect. She was driven enough to pursue a master’s degree in architecture, which she obtained from the University of Idaho, and worked for 14 years in a traditional setting for an international architecture firm – in an office, sitting at a desk, in Seattle. When she was dispatched to be a project architect on a commercial job in Scottsdale, Arizona, she was exposed to the world of construction, which opened her eyes to a whole new way to use her degree and experience. And to have fun.

It just so happened, the job June was assigned to was an expansion of Scottsdale Fashion Square, and Kitchell Contractors was the builder.

“That started my admiration for Kitchell,” June said. “This project was my first exposure to the construction side of architecture. I had heard stories about the ‘Great Wall of China’ chasm between architects and contractors, but that wasn’t my experience with Kitchell. They made it fun.”

June made lifelong connections with Kitchell veterans, including with Project Director Russ Myers, who turned out to be a friend and professional mentor. Senior Project Superintendent Mike Kussy and (then Kitchell Contractors President) Mark Pendleton also made an impact. And when the job was done, she went back to her desk job. But she wasn’t there for long, because June likes challenges, and to have fun.

June eventually made her way to South Carolina, where she was hired as an architect for Fluor. She was assigned to a job in Georgia as a Civil/Structural/Architectural (CSA) Superintendent on an 180,000-square-foot pharmaceutical manufacturing facility and lab space. And there, she fell in love with making an impact in the world of healthcare.

“I reached a point in my maturity where I didn’t want to contribute to commercialism, but wanted to do something that fed my soul.”

June might have been in a little over her head with the first job – she had never done anything like it and didn’t have training, but was told she had to finish it.

“I was just honest with the guys in the field,” she said. “They would come to me with problems, and when my eyes would gloss over, I would just say ‘take me there.’ They might have to explain very basic things – this is a fan coil, this is the HVAC issue. I would ask: ‘Do we have all the right people here for the conversation?’ Then I would ask each guy to tell me how to solve it and what’s best for the building. They all knew what needed to be done, they just needed someone to facilitate the discussion. Nine times out of 10 we’d resolve it.”

Again, after this project, she went back to the office, but she needed more.

“Every time I was done with a project, I would go back to the office and realize how boring it was. It was. Just. Too. Slow.”

June talks about women in construction as having a “secret sauce” that might upset the traditional norms, but as long as you can roll with the punches, the advantages of being a woman in this field far outweigh the disadvantages.

“Every day is a brand new one,” she says. “We talk differently, phrase things differently and get work done differently. We can also make a sarcastic joke that can put someone in their place if necessary. You can choose how you react – let it bug you or let it drive you.”

In June’s words – the new experiences, the everyday challenges, the learning – it was about having fun. “The jobsite guys learned that I trusted them, leaned on them and valued them.”

After the giant pharmaceutical job, June was dispatched to smaller pharm projects in Dallas and San Francisco, and she was still having fun when she was recruited to work for a midsize general contractor in Dallas. But it wasn’t the right fit and she didn’t feel connected. She knew where she did feel connected, remembering her days with the Kitchell team. And at the time June was looking, Kitchell was almost ready. After eight months of waiting for the right Kitchell opportunity – and declining other lucrative offers, it finally happened. June joined Kitchell in spring 2022 and has made a big impact on our Valleywise Health Hospital Tower job as a member of the field management team.

“I like organizing chaos because I find a certain challenge in it,” she said. “I enjoy roles that no one wants to do. It’s a mental challenge and fun to be the woman who gets it done when no one else will. I’ll man up!”

June enjoys the brain challenges she’s given every day, including schedule management. She says she’s driven by production and service, and especially enjoys bringing her “June attitude” to help push a long-term project over the finish line.

“Work/life balance is not about hours – it’s about satisfaction. If you want to succeed and move up the ladder you’ve got to make an investment and do the extra things that separate you from the rest of the pack. Invest in yourself, which might take away from some personal time, but invest early in small amounts – just like retirement savings – your investment will grow. If you really want to learn and grow, be present and earn it.”

And enjoy what you do.

Women in Construction: Luz Gonzalez took a different path to success at Kitchell

Kitchell Project Director’s Luz Gonzalez start in the construction industry was slightly different than others, and perhaps more rewarding because of the path she took. As a young mom, her early years in the workforce were initially labor-intensive with little room for growth. She considered allied health careers such as a dental or medical assistant, but also felt stifled by the lack of opportunities. Her “ah-ha” moment came about four years after initially dropping out of college. With two new babies and a husband who traveled frequently as a truck driver, she realized she needed to get back to school and get her degree. “Even though moving back home with my mom wasn’t ideal, I needed her help to take care of my babies and focus on school,” she said. 

Luz re-enrolled in Fresno State’s Construction Management program, where she was able to renew her scholarship and found supportive instructors who knew her personal situation. When Luz was seeking an internship, her instructors told her to look at Kitchell, since the company had recently been awarded the Madera Juvenile Hall project and was seeking extra help. Her situation was different than other students in the CM program, since going to a project in another city or state wasn’t really an option with two babies at home.

“Fresno State has a Construction Management banquet in the spring,” Luz said. “If you’re trying to get an internship, you’re supposed to sit with the company you want to work for. I sat with (Kitchell Program Manager) Raj Brar and his wife and nervously talked, Raj asked me several questions, and one of them was ‘when do you want to start?'”

Luz started in the summer of 2000, working on the Madera project site. She remained on the job working about 10 hours a week through the rest of the year, still working on finishing her degree. Upon graduation, Raj and Regional Executive Randy Rominger made her a full-time offer with Kitchell.

“I’ll admit in those early years, it was pretty lonely being a woman on the job,” Luz said. “For five years it was just Raj and me, and I didn’t work with any other females during that time. When you’re able to work with other women, you develop a bond. When we had our first female Program Manager at Kitchell, I realized – I want to be like her – she’s so bad ass!”

Most people would say Luz is pretty bad ass on her own.

“There’s always this voice in your head telling you, ‘who am I?’ I would compare myself to men, and then start to realize – they don’t have all the answers either. They’re just like we are, trying to make sense of things as they go along, but they’re also in general much more confident in their decision-making. Then you get to a point when you have enough experience and get it – everyone is just trying to do their best, trying to figure it out, and I’ll just do what I can do. I’ll do my homework, read my specs, read my plans and as long as I have that knowledge, I can make educated decisions. It’s okay to make mistakes and I know I can change my mind based on new information or research – that’s okay too.”

This June, Luz celebrates 22 years with Kitchell, and she still loves her job.

“My supervisors have always supported me, helping me grow in my skills and recognize my strengths,” she said. “I started as an intern and now am a Project Director. I’ve been given opportunities to move up, grow and stay with Kitchell. If that wasn’t the case, I would have left.”

Who do you know who would be a good fit at Kitchell? View open jobs at https://www.kitchell.com/careers/.