High School Junior Discovers Career Opportunities for Women in Construction

By Irene Wazgowska | September 28, 2010

At 5 feet 2 inches and 90 pounds, 18-year-old La Xiong is a self-proclaimed “ball of fire.” Whether in class or on site, she's an energetic learner.

So it's no surprise this native of Thailand is on her way to a promising career in construction.

While attending foreign language courses at Walton Career Academy her junior year, La found herself intrigued as she passed by the construction room on her way to class. As she puts it, she thought what the students were doing “looked like fun.”

Not Just A “Guy Thing”

La admits that for a moment she “thought it was just a guy thing, and that maybe [she] shouldn't consider it.” But as soon as doubt crossed her mind, it quickly passed.

La was encouraged by fellow student Brooke West, one of the rare women in the male-dominated construction courses. La says that Brooke “stepped up and did her thing,” which inspired La to do the same.

La approached the construction teacher, Paul Campanella, who told her that gender didn't matter and that there was no need for concern. And even though she still had some reservations, she says that it's a “good thing [she] did it.”

Honors And An Internship

Campanella recalls how as a student La “had perfect attendance, no tardies.” This dedication, along with what he calls a “great work ethic,” resulted in her being named Team Member of the Quarter as well as a member of SkillsUSA.

She was a “top performer,” he says.

The teacher adds that La's enthusiasm and ability prompted him to “put [his] name behind her” for a Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) summer internship.

Working In The Industry

After graduating from Monroe High School this past May, La was chosen for a summer internship with Rogers Construction Company, working as a member of the Rogers team on construction of the Sunrise Assisted Living project.

Ricky Vickery, Rogers' risk manager and field operations coordinator, recalls how he had three internship slots to fill. He knew he wanted to take La on, but it was not until she consulted with her parents and got back to him that she became part of the Rogers team.

Vickery mentions that La came highly recommended. Even her fellow interns spoke highly of her, saying “she can work as hard as anyone, if not more so.”

In her internship, La worked as a carpenter's assistant, finding herself getting involved in anything she could get her hands on. She's done wood blocking as well as trim, porch and wood framing work, installed PTAC sleeves, operated compact equipment, and has received her OSHA-required forklift credentials.

As her superintendent on the project, Mark Kennedy, said, La “is very interested in learning and being involved” and likes “to know what makes things come together.”

Gary Gruber, La's mentor on the job, reiterates La's commitment to the craft.

“She's a hard worker,” he says, “always asking questions.” He adds that he was pleased to have her on the crew.

Launching A Career In Construction

La says that she never imagined that she would end up working where she did and following a path to a construction career – and neither did her parents, who hoped she would go into nursing.

Her parents thought nursing was a practical career choice and one in which she'd find success. At first there was concern about her getting involved in the construction industry, let alone participating in the internship. But La told them that it was what she wanted to do and that she was going to do it.

La starts this fall at Georgia Perimeter College, where she is working toward a degree in business.

“[La] is small in stature, but big in heart and the desire to accomplish her goals,” said her mother. “She will do well in her pursuit of a career in the construction industry, regardless of what path she chooses to follow, be it in management or in the trades.”

It won't be a surprise then, when La makes use of her education and ends up being the one calling the shots.

Author Information
Irene Wazgowska is a writer for the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia who reports on construction education and construction internships.