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Celebrating Women in Construction Week: Interview with Sampada Chavan

Each year, the construction industry, guided by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), dedicates the first week of March to honoring and promoting the role of women in the construction industry. This year’s Women in Construction Week theme, ‘Many Paths, One Mission,’ celebrates the different journeys of women in construction and how we can work together to strengthen and amplify the success of women in the industry.

This week, Clancy & Theys joins the celebration by sitting down with five of our very own women in construction. Join us for this five-part series as we dive into their construction journeys, their roles at Clancy & Theys, and their insights about being a woman in this industry.

Meet Sampada Chavan, a Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) Preconstruction Engineer with Clancy & Theys’ Raleigh Division. Sampada has been in the industry for more than eight years and recently joined Clancy & Theys last fall.

Growing up, did you think you would have a career in the construction industry?
Yes! As a young child, I always knew I wanted to build things. I grew up in India, and my parents, who both held doctorates, always pushed me to attain the highest level of education possible. They taught me to work hard toward what I wanted in life. My uncle was an engineer with the Public Works Department in India and led large infrastructure projects in Mumbai, which is the city where I grew up. I was always captivated by his work because I could actually see the projects he was building. To fuel my intrigue, I would watch documentaries on mega projects being built around the world, like Taipei 101 and Burj Khalifa. All of this confirmed what I always knew— that I wanted to build things, specifically buildings.

How did your journey in the construction industry begin?
In college, I decided to pursue civil engineering to help me get closer to the career that I really wanted. Spending four years studying civil engineering made me realize that I was learning more about designing structures, which means I was learning how to do the math. I was learning how to calculate loads on columns and beams, but I wasn’t learning how to actually construct a project from start to finish, which is where my passion was. I went to my professors and told them that while I understood design, I felt like I knew very little about the management side of construction. My professors suggested that since India did not have established workflows in construction management, pursuing education abroad, especially a degree in Construction Management which is popular in the United States, would help me prepare for my career in construction.

I had never imagined moving to the United States, but I felt it was the best decision. I ultimately chose North Carolina State University to pursue my master’s degree because their program focused on engineering and research, and the coursework was more hands-on. Some projects in our coursework were based on real-time implementation of construction management strategies, productivity studies, and Virtual Design and Construction efforts. This exposure to how construction is done piqued my curiosity and made me want to pursue a career in the industry after graduation.

What led you to Clancy & Theys?
After graduating with my master’s, I started working with a smaller subcontractor because I wanted to continue my understanding of how things are done in the construction industry. I worked for a concrete subcontractor as a project engineer and estimator. Some days I was on site, supervising construction pours; other days, I was in the office doing estimates, which I discovered I really loved. After working as a subcontractor, I knew I wanted to continue to grow and work on the other side, managing the entire process. So, I transitioned to a local general contractor as an estimator. In this role, I learned more about the whole preconstruction process from the GC side. I worked on hard bids jobs for schools and commercial projects and did some private negotiated projects as well. After some time with this general contractor, I decided it was time for me to switch roles and continue to grow my career, which led me to Clancy & Theys, where I am able to combine my love for preconstruction with technology.

What is your current role, and what does it entail?
I am a VDC (Virtual Design and Construction) Preconstruction Engineer, which is essentially a combination of the VDC and estimating roles. I am working on building preconstruction workflows that enable the integration of 3D building models using VDC tools. I’m involved in model-based estimating, which helps streamline the information from the models into preconstruction workflows. I’m kind of the middle person who’s translating an architect’s model for estimators. My job responsibilities also include exploring and implementing the latest technological solutions to aid faster and more efficient deliveries in preconstruction. My overall goal is to maximize the use of models and integrate them fully into the preconstruction process.

What’s your favorite thing about working in the construction industry?
Construction is a people’s business. I love meeting new people and collaborating. Whether it’s with the design team, the owners, the architects, or the subcontractors—we get to collaborate with different perspectives and then watch the project come together.

And, of course, the technology. So much is changing and progressing in construction. I love what is happening and the direction we are headed.

What makes you most proud of your career? What makes you want to stay in your career?
Being part of change here at Clancy & Theys and within the industry makes me proud. I am thrilled to be part of the change in our workflow and processes. It’s exciting to be part of making this process more efficient for the generations to come.

I have never worked in a company that is so excited about new technology. It’s wonderful that I am not alone in this endeavor and that everyone wants to help the cause. I love being part of a team with a shared vision, especially one that aligns with my goals and aspirations.

What is the best advice you’ve received during your career?
Construction, especially estimating, is a stressful job. One of my mentors told me that the best way to help with the stress of the job is to find ways to make every day exciting. When you focus on something that excites you day in and day out, your perspective changes and can positively affect everything you do.

What advice would you give to a female, or anyone, considering a career in construction?
Be confident. Don’t be intimidated by the male-to-female ratio because there is room for everyone to bring their perspectives and opinions.

Are you involved with any industry-related organizations?
Yes, over the last several years, I have been an active member of NAWIC, and I would encourage other women in construction to look into joining their local chapters. It’s a great way to network with others in the industry and a valuable resource for opportunities and education.