This article originally appeared in Arizona Business Magazine.
As the second of five children, Julie Ernzen Garcia grew up with fierce convictions to faith, family and service and a drive to succeed seeded by her parents. Her father was a commissioned Army officer whose career required the family move every three years, and her mother was a graduate of the first class of women at the University of Notre Dame. Adapting to change was par for the course, which is evident in the way Garcia approaches every aspect of her life. When asked how she grew into the role of Kitchell’s Director of Preconstruction, she laughs “I always have a plan, but I never end up where I’m planning to go.”
Diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes at the age of 6, Garcia has a hard time remembering life without it. It is a constant, nagging and sometimes life-threatening burden, but she takes it in stride. “It’s a part of me but does not define me.”
Inspired by her experience as a patient, Garcia headed to Arizona State University with a full scholarship and intent to be a pediatric endocrinologist… until she realized she couldn’t handle other people’s blood.
She took one construction class at the behest of her dad, who teaches at ASU’s Del E. Webb School of Construction. She loved it, took more classes and obtained a degree in construction management with a residential focus while earning the highest GPA of anyone in the program. She interviewed with Kitchell only because they had a custom homes division and accepted a position after taking the summer off and obtaining her real estate license.
But rather than put Garcia on a custom home project, in 2004 Kitchell was staffing up for the St. Joseph’s Medical Center Barrow Neurological Institute hospital tower project. She was assigned as a Project Engineer.
“Until my first day, my naive brain thought ‘what custom home is being built at St. Joe’s?’”
That first day started a long-term career at Kitchell and Garcia has never looked back. She was paired with old school project superintendents who challenged her, developing endearing relationships and close connections. During her early years at Kitchell, she married her high school sweetheart, Neil, and had four healthy children in short order despite having high-risk pregnancies. When she returned from maternity leave with her oldest, she was asked to choose between being a project engineer in Kitchell’s Custom Homes division or going into preconstruction for a year. By that time, she had the maturity to realize that embracing something she thought she would hate (preconstruction was the only class she did not like) might lead to new opportunities.
That decision ultimately led to the role Garcia has today: leading a preconstruction team working on a multitude of projects, including the $525 million Maricopa Integrated Health System’s Care Reimagined campus transformation.
“I love preconstruction because we have the biggest impact on projects in the shortest amount of time.”
When not at work or spending time with Neil and their brood (Neil is the director of training for an automotive group and Julie’s biggest supporter), Garcia is an adjunct faculty associate at ASU. She teaches the same class – Construction Management 101 – that led to her chosen career. She also recently joined the local board of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
“I’m here because nothing turned out the way I planned, and I’m very blessed.”