Women in Construction: Alexis Carver’s career in design took her back to campus

Kitchell Project Director Alexis Carver was always drawn to buildings and design. When she was in elementary school her family decided to build a home. They met with several architects, visited homesites and pored over designs. While most kids would consider that insufferable, Alexis enjoyed it so much that she followed her passion to college and obtained a degree in Architecture from the University of Arizona.

“I really enjoyed the process of seeing a project from design through completion and wanted to help people achieve their dreams.”

With parents who worked full-time throughout her youth, she also realized she needed to love her job enough to want to work for a long time. So after five years in residential design, she began looking for opportunities to apply her talents to projects with a bigger purpose. She enjoyed her thesis project in college, which included designing a school for special needs children. She leaped into the general contracting world doing virtual design and construction and BIM coordination in manufacturing, senior living, hospitals and higher education markets.

When Alexis joined Kitchell, she was in a position to better understand what she wanted from a career as well as what she could contribute to a company. She had a wide range of experience, a great rapport with clients and a desire to work at a place where she felt comfortable at the outset.

“I did a lot of thinking about whether I wanted to stay in construction management, or go back into architecture,” she said. “At that point in my career, social media played a big role in generating job leads. I had an outpouring of support from people I knew in the industry, including architects, general contractors and was fortunate that Kitchell was one of several that had opportunities.”

Alexis felt at home as soon as she stepped foot in Kitchell’s office.

“What struck me was how transparent and relationship-based Kitchell was from the get-go,” she said. “My first conversations were really comfortable and it was clear that Kitchell cared about its people, its clients and was looking to help people grow in their careers.”

The biggest selling point for Alexis might have been the idea of working on projects at her alma mater. She is currently an active team member working on the University of Arizona Grand Challenges Research Building, an engineering marvel currently under construction on the UA campus – just across from McKale Stadium. Kitchell also built the award-winning Health Sciences Innovation Building, a design that has garnered national kudos and opened for use just before the pandemic.

“It’s really special to be back where you were a student and see the campus grow and progress, and know how you’re impacting the future students,” she said. “I feel like I’m part of the UA community again and even have my ‘CAT Card’ back!”

Alexis plays an active role in recruiting students from the University of Arizona, attending the College of Architecture recruiting event every year. She sells the same relationship-based concepts that drew her to Kitchell – the immediate warm feeling, flexibility, openness to ideas and ongoing skills training. As an active participant in Kitchell’s Mentor Program, she also understands the need to be a mentor in an industry where female mentors are few and far between and has worked throughout her career to identify women who can help navigate career and life choices.

She hopes to inspire others to pursue the industry and stick with it, noting that retaining women in the architecture industry, which starts out about 50/50 men and women but gradually declines over time, is challenging.

“People are just looking for the best ideas, regardless of whether they come from men or women,” she said. “But I do think that overall we need to do a better job of retaining women, and that means having women mentors in the industry who can serve as role models and advocates.”

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/.