From a young age, Johana Patraca Jimenez found herself fascinated by the construction process. Seeing a building materialize out of seemingly nothing over the course of months of work sparked her desire to be a part of that world. When it came time to choose a path for herself, she decided to pursue a degree in construction management from Northern Arizona University (NAU) and served as president of the university’s National Association of Women in Construction chapter. She started out as an office manager for a local contractor and has now been with Sundt for almost a year as a field engineer on the Willamette Water Supply Water Treatment Plant project in Sherwood, Oregon.
Q: What initially sparked your interest in construction?
A: When I was growing up, I was always interested in seeing the construction processes around my neighborhood. I loved driving by at different points in time and seeing the progress that had been made – with each week that went by, it looked completely different than the last. Whenever a project was complete, I thought about how cool it would be to be able to say, “I helped build that.”
I went on to get my degree in construction management from NAU and that idea followed me because I could see how much pride my professors had when talking about the projects they helped build. That really kept me motivated.
Q: How and why did you decide to work for Sundt?
A: At NAU, Thursday they would hold a Construction Industry Seminar where they would invite a different company to come present and meet with students. My friend convinced me to go on the day that people from Sundt were there, and I immediately fell in love and signed up for an interview. I spoke with Mike Neher, Leena Patel, and
Sergio Sanchez and it felt like I had known them for years. It didn’t even feel like an interview; it was more like talking to old friends. That’s when I knew Sundt was the place I wanted to be.
Q: What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments?
A; We were leading a site tour for some visiting politicians. While we were standing on the road that I had overseen the construction of, the owner’s representative pointed at me and said, “See that woman right there? SHE is the reason we are standing on this road right now; she oversaw the construction on the whole thing.” And I know for someone who has been in the industry for as long as he has, that wasn’t something he would say lightly. That really meant something coming from him and one of my proudest moments.
Q: What challenges have you overcome in your role or within the industry?
A: Nothing you learn in school will fully prepare you for being in the field. Education helps, but you never know what to expect until you are thrown right into your first project. Early on, I was designated as lead surveyor and was tasked to do an inspection. Initially I was really intimidated because I was fresh out of college at that point, and it felt like I wasn’t qualified for the job yet. But I went to my inspector and asked for help getting started. They walked me through it, told me what to look for, and it was exactly what I needed to build my confidence. I’ve been doing inspections solo ever since.
Q: Have you had any mentors along the way who have inspired you or helped you in your career journey?
A: One of my professors at NAU, Agnes Drogi, marked my life in so many ways. She was the one in charge of the Women in Construction (WIC) chapter at NAU and encouraged me to join. She would always tell me that although there are so many challenges and stereotypes, I would have to face as a woman in construction, to keep going and become someone who would eventually empower other women in the industry.
Q: What advice would you give to a new generation of women as they enter the industry?
A: Be your own advocate and never give up. Because once you step foot on your first jobsite, you’ll be surrounded by men who have been working in the industry for decades and aren’t used to having women around — that can be intimidating. Luckily at Sundt, everyone took me under their wing almost immediately, but it’s not always like that. You must just be confident in your abilities and keep pushing.
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