“I’m not disinterested, I swear! I’m just looking down because I’m painting my nails while we talk,” Emily tells me as I meet her for the first time over Skype. She shows me the color she just bought and lets out an infectious laugh. Emily works as a field engineer for Mortenson Construction. The current project is a $400 million, 1 million square foot hospital in Fargo, North Dakota. It’s her first job out of college, and she’s rockin’ it. Today, she had to tell a bunch of construction guys that the huge concrete slabs they spent hours pouring were done wrong. “Basically there was a miscommunication on how this waterproofing detail was supposed to go. So I thought the waterproofing detail was supposed to be done after pouring the concrete, but apparently it was supposed to be done beforehand. So I had to tell the guys, ‘well, you gotta pull those forms now that took you about two hours to put in. And now you’ve gotta lay this expensive waterproofing’ -- I couldn’t believe how expensive this waterproofing is. It’s like $20,000 for like 20 feet of this stuff. It just blew my mind. I was like, ‘Can I get in that business? Can I make that stuff?’ I could not believe it. ANYWAY. So I’m the person who says hey, you gotta redo that. Or hey, how can we work around this.”
I ask Emily what it’s like to tell a group of men that are at least a decade older than her that they made a mistake or have to do something over. She says the first tries to not insult them and acknowledges their experience. “They know what they’re doing. That’s obvious. They’ve been doing it for a long time,” she tells us. “I’m not going to pretend like I’m a know it all. I just explain myself. ‘Here are my thoughts, what do you think?’ It has to be a conversation, not just me telling them what to do.” Things don’t always go over as well as she would hope, though. “When those guys had to pull those forms, they were not happy. You’ve got these construction workers who don’t hold back when they’re angry. They yelled at my face and [I] finally just told the guy, ‘you know what? The building’s gonna get built. I PROMISE.”
We were really curious what the average day is like for Emily. “50% of the time I’m in the office, 50% of the time I’m outside making sure things are going right...if any issues pop up, I gotta fix those. A typical day starts at 6 am when I get to work. At 6:30 we have our plan of day meeting where all of the foremen of our subcontractors meet with our superintendents. The superintendents are the guys that run the project and make sure that things are moving smoothly logistically. And then you have the engineers. We all meet and talk about all the dilemmas we have, what kind of inspections we need to go through, any kind of safety issues, any quality issues. At 7 we have what we call stretch and bend.”
At 7 we have what we call stretch and bend."
“We all meet up – craft workers, foremen, engineers, superintendents,” she continues, “and all hang out somewhere on site and that’s literally what it is. We stretch. We do – touch your toes, arms across the chest.”
Megan and I almost in unison say, “Seriously!? No way!”
“Yeah, because, you know, those guys are out there working all day and it’s like hard labor. They are lifting a lot of things, twisting, you know. Mortenson actually found that when they do this stretch and bend they actually reduce a lot of soft tissue injuries…so…. I don’t know. It’s kind of nice in the morning. It’s a team building thing.”
After all her muscles are loosened at the stretch and bend, Emily goes and checks out the site to see if anything happened over night. She then talks to the foremen and asks what their plans are for the day. Then it’s off to the office to work through her pile of submittals. She checks through the specifications for various aspects of the building and makes sure the work that’s being done matches with the plans. “And of course dealing with subcontractors -- that’s a job within itself,” Emily says. “I don’t want to say I’m babysitting them, but they always try to cut corners. That’s part of why we have specifications because otherwise those guys will just pull anything out of their garage – ‘Hey I’ve used these fasteners before…this will work.’ And that wouldn’t be good because a leak would spring and then the owner would come to Mortenson and be like “what the hell did you do?” and that wouldn’t be good.”
There are around 40 people in her office, four of which are women. She’s pretty well versed at being one of the only women in a room, though. She tells us about her days as a college freshman:
“My first class that I took in college within engineering was in a big auditorium with somewhere around 200 to 300 people. But I remember how many girls were in there. There were three. There were three. I remember that we all spotted each other right away and were like [insert huge eye expression that says, SAVE ME]. I couldn’t believe it.
I like working with people. I like learning from people. That’s my biggest draw to what I’m doing right now."
So now, onto the last but most important question for Emily: “Do you ever see yourself designing and building your own house someday?”
“Um, YES. I already have the plans in the works. You literally just said my life goal right there. Ok, this is going to sound super weird. I have all of these log cabin catalogs because I just love to stare at them and dream. I could have a TREE inside my HOUSE! That’s a lifetime goal, to build my own cabin. It’s going to have the electricity and the running water, but it’s also going to have a slide that goes to a lake.”
“Can we come visit?” I ask.
“Yes you can. Give me like 20-30 years before it’s built, but yes you can. It’s going to happen.”
And I totally believe her that this building is going to get built, water slides and all.