Construction management major Mariah Wright, ’16, has more experience in the field than most graduates.
No glass ceilings exist for Mariah Wright — especially since she’s the one helping construct the buildings. Literally.
Wright, a senior from Clinton, Ind., is a construction management major at Indiana State with an already impressive resume. She landed an internship with Thompson Thrift her freshman year and helped plan, hire contractors and oversee the construction of the $22.7 million student housing project at 500 Wabash Ave. Fittingly, she now calls that address home.
“Every time I’m walking somebody up to my apartment, I’m like, ‘Oh, I built this,’” Wright said with a laugh. “It’s an experience that not many people get. It’s pretty amazing. It’s always something I bring up in job interviews. Everyone’s like, ‘Really?’ I got really lucky. Things just lined up.”
With the Wabash Avenue project complete, Wright spent her next to last semester at State balancing an eye-popping 24 credit hours and commuting to Indianapolis for a full-time internship with Pepper Construction. She helped the company with their biggest project at the time at Community East Hospital.
“It’s insane,” she admitted, “all in between trying to fit in job interviews and stuff like that.”
Another quality that makes Wright stand out is her Spanish language fluency — a skill she further perfected during a study abroad experience at Veritas University in Costa Rica. About half of the workers at the Thompson Thrift job site did not speak English, she said. Further south, that ratio can be 80 percent or more.
“The language barriers on construction sites can cause problems down the line, so it’s an amazing skill to have. When you have someone there who can help out, it definitely changes things,” she said.
Despite Wright’s focus and skill set, it can be difficult to get her peers to treat her like an equal — and not like their daughter.
“Sometimes it is challenging, because they don’t really take you seriously a lot of times,” Wright said. “When I’m in the office, I’ll show up wearing high heels and a dress, but then on the job site, I show up wearing jeans and boots. It’s different for them. You have to kind of prove you can do what it takes.”
She recalled an instance on the job site when some broken windows needed to be carried the dumpster.
“So the guys gave me a window without any glass — it was just a frame. It was really light,” she said. “And here they are taking like four windows. When they are walking away, I grab four more windows. They are like, ‘What are you doing?’ And I was like, ‘I can handle this. I can do what you guys are doing. I may be a girl, but you don’t have to treat me like one.’”
Wright sees a need for more women in construction, especially since research she read suggests the field will need 70,000 workers by 2020.
“Men and women really do see things differently, and that’s great because in construction, you have to look at it in all different angles, not just straight on,” she said. “So, I think that having a female on your projects is very beneficial in that way.”
Wright said she definitely looks up to the few female role models she finds, including a senior project manager she worked with at Pepper this fall.
“She is a hard worker, and she does not let any of the guys mess around with her,” Wright said. “I feel like she’s a lot like me in a way. We’ll have a meeting or something and after the meeting, everybody’s sitting around and eating their donuts and drinking coffee and she gets up and walks away. Everybody’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ and she’s like ‘I’ve got actual work to do.’ They take her really seriously. She gets what she wants and she does a really great job.”
With no family connection to construction, Wright’s interests actually stemmed from an early fascination with architecture. “As a child, I was always building forts and stuff like that,” she said.
But an experience in high school helped shape her goals into a better fit.
“I went (to a summer college course) and I started drawing,” she said. “I always joke my houses were the squares with triangles on top, and I’d have a little dog with stick figures in the front. Not exactly like that, but they were pretty bad compared to everybody else. (The other students) had these beautiful, aesthetically attractive drawings, and it’s like, ‘Wow, did you take classes before this?’ It was mind- blowing to see these other drawings compared to mine. So I decided that I probably wouldn’t be a very good architect.”
One of her mentors at the course was a construction management major — and Indiana State graduate — and suggested Wright consider adjusting her sights to her current field. An offer of university’s prestigious W. Max Stark Endowed Presidential Scholarship sealed the deal — and was the start of numerous other opportunities.
“A lot of it is thanks to my professors for just being willing to go out of their way, like helping students, even after hours — just putting your name out there to all these different companies,” she said. “Indiana State has such a great program that companies want to come out and they want to receive the resumes of the students. Opportunities come because of that.”