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5'1'' and in Construction
Ana Aritonovska is a fourth year Civil Engineering student. She is in the BS/MS Program with a focus in Structures. Born in Macedonia, she immigrated to New Jersey at the age of seven. She is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Treasurer for the Society of Women Engineers.
5'1'' and in Construction
Entering Northeastern as a freshman, I never expected to mature and come into my own so drastically each and every year. I was always the quiet girl in high school, never wanted too much attention on me. Even as a freshman at Northeastern I was still shy but I was getting better through realizing that all the people around me were just like me in high school.
It wasn’t until my first co-op that I really came into my own. As a civil engineer focusing in structural engineering, I had to decide whether I wanted to going into the design or construction field. Being from New Jersey, I knew I wanted to work in New York City. I applied to all the jobs in New York City and got a call from Judlau Contracting to interview with them on campus. Simple right? Didn’t have to travel to New York and interview or have to do an over the phone interview. Well it wasn’t that simple, my interviewer was the son of the owner of the company, and if that wasn’t enough pressure, rather than asking me the typical interview questions, he presented me with riddles. As someone with no experience in the field, and the first interview of my career, I was petrified. When he called me and told me that they were offering me a job I immediately said yes. If this company was going to challenge me so much during the interview, I couldn’t wait to see how much they were going to challenge me during the next six months.
I was placed on the 72nd Street Station project, part of the Second Avenue Subway Project in Manhattan worth $254 million. My main responsibility was a change order; meaning that a portion of the station was redesigned and it was my job to figure out the change in price based on the concrete, rebar, excavation, etc. My project manager went as far as trusting me to meet with the design engineers and the construction managers to discuss the change in price and quantities. My project manager’s confidence in my work only increased my confidence in myself, especially since I was one of the two female engineers on the project. The other female on the project was a woman with 15 years experience who took me under her wing. Both of us stood at 5’ 1”, but our attitude and confidence defined our presence. She was the most inspiring woman and working with her among all the men in a stressful and fast paced environment solidified that I could be a construction engineer or contractor for the rest of my life.
Having such a rewarding experience at Judlau, for my second co-op I sought out a design engineering position. What I didn’t expect was for the Tappan Zee Bridge to be accepting co-ops. Being 15 minutes away from the Tappan Zee Bridge, it held a special place in my heart and I wanted to be part of such a historic project. The Tappan Zee Bridge is worth $3.2 billion, the biggest project in America. Transitioning from a smaller project in a small company to a large project in a larger company exposed me to what type of company I want to be part of in the future.
While the project was massive, I never felt lost or just a number. I was hired by Granite Construction, one of the four companies that make up the Tappan Zee Constructors. I was part of the Rockland Landing group, and this time I was the only woman on the team of eight. My experience at Judlau gave me the confidence to stand up for myself and not get discouraged by being the only female at work. My coworkers took notice because they gave the lead on installing a 30,000 lb. drainage structure. I developed the step-by-step plan of the entire installation, including the rigging, material ordering, and equipment renting. I rented a 90 ton crane! The adrenaline rush while they lowered the structure into the ground was why I worked three months on the plan. I couldn’t ask for a more rewarding feeling.
The most amazing part of my co-op was climbing one of the world’s largest crane barges. The Left Coast Lifter, renamed the I Lift NY, traveled from its home in San Francisco through the Panama Canal (which almost didn’t fit) and up the east coast to the Tappan Zee Bridge. How big is the crane? It can lift 1,900 tons or 12 Statue of Liberties with a boom length of 328 feet. I climbed 156 steps to the top and felt like I was on top of the world, for years to come I can say I climbed to the top of the Left Coast Lifter, something only a limited amount of people can say.
Being a woman in engineering can be tough; being a woman in construction can be even tougher. With just two co-ops under my belt, I have gained two more layers of tough skin. I’ve encountered both male and female mentors that have built me up and gave me the assurance that I can be a female in the fast paced and stressful environment that is construction. I can’t wait to go to work everyday and be pulled in ten different directions, have my phone constantly ringing, and have to find solutions from everything as small as finding more nuts and bolts to making sure the crane maintains a safe distance from power lines.
Being in the BS/MS program I gave up my last co-op, but with my AP credits from high school I was able to clear my summer. This gave me a chance to look for a summer internship in design engineering and have an experience in both design and construction to definitively decide between the two. The Society of Women Engineers has been essential to my future. With a group of 60 girls, we were sponsored by National Grid to go to Los Angeles for the Society of Women Engineers National Conference. There I met with ARUP and got an interview with the company in Cambridge, MA. I knew I wanted to work to ARUP because at my last two projects, ARUP was the design engineer for the subway and a consultant for the bridge. They are an internationally acclaimed company. Working at ARUP I hope to experience working for an even bigger company than Judlau and Granite.
Through my co-op experiences I have learned about what type of career path I want and how to stand up for my ideas and myself. I am grateful for Northeastern for giving me the chance to experience both construction and design jobs. I do not fear my future post-graduation, I am excited to see where my life takes me.