An interview with the women who make up "Builders at Bliss" at Fort Bliss Replacement Hospital: Gina Chapa Fuentes, Ana Guzman, Liliana Gallegos, Lisa Haisan, Janeth Holguin Cano, Geeta Kudalkar, Cara Lanigan, Sofia Martin, Kayla Morales, Elizabeth Mendoza, Hannah Nicholson, Amanda Rabah, Jessica Rau, Jessica Saenz, Estefania Soto, Fabiola Suarez, Taryn Swopes, Marisela Tellez, Kayla Valdez
OSHA reports that women make up only 9% of the U.S. construction industry. With women accounting for nearly half of their own project team, the women on the Fort Bliss Replacement Hospital project are working to increase that industry statistic. They call themselves “Builders at Bliss” and they are on a mission to inspire and motivate young women to pursue higher education and a future career in STEM fields.
How did Builders at Bliss get started?
Cara Lanigan, Vice President: It started with a potluck with the women on the project. As our team grew, we organized more events. We hosted a meeting to discuss Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. After that event, we decided we wanted to focus on connecting with our community while providing professional development for the women on our project through networking opportunities.
What types of events have you organized?
Lisa Haisan, Project Engineer: We work with many local schools to host events that encourage young girls to pursue degrees in STEM. Our team comes up with engaging STEM-focused activities to spark their interest in those fields
Taryn Swopes, Assistant Superintendent: One of our favorite events was building popsicle stick structures with girls at AOY Elementary School. We gave the girls 100 popsicle sticks, a paper plate, and tape, and their objective was to build the tallest structure that could withstand being pushed one foot across the table. We taught them basic knowledge about solid foundations and structures. It was fun to see everyone work together to create a structure based on what we taught them!
Jessica Rau, Project Engineer: Recently we used the holidays to help make science fun! We taught the girls how molecules react to each other and made “snow globes” by combining oil, water, food coloring, and glitter, and then dropping in Alka-Seltzer tablets to activate the ingredients. We all had a blast!
Hannah Nicholson, Engineer: At Young Women’s Leadership Academy, we taught girls the importance of networking, and put our skills to the test with a few fun activities. We’ve also done a few “non-STEM” activities with the academy which have been fun, like Christmas caroling in the local neighborhood. It was nice to interact with the girls in a different setting.
Why do you think it’s important to encourage girls to explore STEM?
Ana Guzman, Engineer: For women—young or old—entering the STEM field can be intimidating, and deter many from pursuing a career in the industry. We believe it is part of our job to serve as role models and mentors to young girls so that they are confident and emboldened to explore the world of STEM. It’s important to not only encourage young girls to explore careers in STEM, but also to provide hands-on, real-life examples they can interact with and learn from.
Geeta Kudalkar, Project Engineer: It touches our hearts to see how the time we invest in these young women by sharing our stories of successes (and failures!) motivates them to learn more about STEM and potentially pursue a career in the industry! They have so much drive and optimism for the STEM fields and we love that we get to help support that.
What impact has Builders at Bliss had on your own team?
Sofia Martin, Engineer: Spending time with these girls has developed a sincere appreciation for our careers and work, as well as a passion to continue learning and evolving into better professionals and role models
Kayla Morales, Assistant Superintendent: Builders at Bliss has made our team aware of the important roles we play not only professionally, but socially, and in our community. Our goals should not be limited to just completing a construction project, but also to give back and contribute to the community around us. Working and interacting with the young girls in the El Paso community has shown us the need and desire for female figure mentors in the STEM industry.
What's the most rewarding part about working with girls through Builders at Bliss?
Amanda Rabah, Project Engineer: Seeing someone at a young age with big goals for the future, and being able to help them reach those goals, is very rewarding. These girls are eager to listen and learn, and hopefully we can make an impact by instilling in them the enthusiasm, motivation, and discipline it takes to reach their goals.