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.”