Building dreams: Niagara College student receives Women in Construction Faculty Award

Construction Engineering Technology Jessica Garrett is the winner of Niagara College’s first Women in Construction Faculty Award.. Niagara College Photo

Niagara College press release – It’s not always easy to pursue career dreams – especially for female students entering industries traditionally dominated by men, such as such as construction.

In advance of International Women’s Day, a Niagara College construction student received a helping hand, as the recipient of the College’s first Women in Construction Faculty Award. Established through the generosity of Welland resident Jan Erion, the award is a $500 donation toward a student’s tuition, designated specifically for a female student in one of the College’s construction programs.

“As a female in the construction field, I feel very fortunate to have had a successful career in the construction industry,” said Erion. “This award has been established to encourage other women to persevere in overcoming any obstacles in order to succeed in this rewarding field.”

The award recipient is third-year Construction Engineering Technology student Jessica Garrett of Niagara Falls. “I was very surprised and honoured to receive this award,” said Garrett. “I have had to overcome many obstacles to get where I am today.”

Garrett noted that she has always been passionate about the industry. She pursued her interest in Grade 12 through a Specialist High Skills Major in construction where she helped construct a home for Habitat for Humanity. Following high school, she enrolled in NC’s Construction Techniques program to explore opportunities in the field, and worked for a year before enrolling in her current program. Last summer, she began working for Associated Engineering, and has continued to work part-time as she completes her final year of college.

“I have always loved construction, learning how things were built and how they work,” she said, “I enjoy being able to use a large variety of skills such as math and writing and the different challenges the field presents.”

Garrett has encountered many challenges however, as she pursued her career dreams. In the past, she encountered sexism due to her size and gender, while pursuing her interest in construction. She faced financial challenges, living on her own since the age of 18 and working two jobs while completing the Construction Techniques program to pay her tuition.

Her greatest challenge was during her first year as a college student, when an abusive relationship left her with trauma and physical disabilities which required her to use a cane and, for months, a wheelchair. While, at times, she felt like giving up, she went through therapy, continued her education as well as working her part-time job. Now, that she has fully recovered, Garrett hopes her story will inspire or help other women.

“Even with all of these obstacles, I managed to overcome them and succeed,” she said. “If just one woman going through something similar sees this, and it helps them, then it’s worth it.”

Faculty member Frank Roberts, in consultation with a group of faculty members, selected Garrett for the award, noting that she had faced some very difficult times as a student, including physical disabilities.

“She never complained about the extra effort that was required to get to class. She was always prepared,” he said. “Despite all of the obstacles she faced, Jessica continued to improve in her course by maintaining positive study habits and dedication to succeed.”

Roberts noted that the  Construction Engineering Technology program currently has 10-15% female enrolment – which he is hoping will increase in the years ahead. Similarly, female students comprise about 10% of the College’s School of Technology construction-based programs Construction Engineering Technology, and Civil Engineering Technician. In the Carpentry Renovation Techniques program within NC’s School of Trades, that number lies at about 7%.

“I believe the construction sector has many fantastic opportunities for female students to excel in and great opportunities to advance in their chosen field,” said Roberts. “Our graduates are well prepared to face any challenge in the ever-changing industry.”

Dean of Media, Trades and Technology Vincent Shaikh noted that the College has a number of initiatives and activities designed to attract more female students to the construction industry and skilled trades, including working with elementary and high schools to encourage female students to enter these career pathways.

“We strive to create a diverse environment which provides equal opportunity that prohibits any form of discrimination, and we ensure that our female students have access to mentoring groups for support,” he said. “Female students do excel in this traditionally male-dominated industry. More work is needed to break down gender stereotypes.”

The Women in Construction Faculty Award is one of many awards available to help students financially at Niagara College, through the generosity of individuals, businesses and organizations.

“Financial aid helps our students pursue their dreams and has a lasting impact on their success,” said Helen Armstrong, development officer, scholarships and bursaries. “We are grateful to Jan Erion and to all of our generous donors who are making a difference in the lives of our students by contributing to student awards, bursaries or scholarships at Niagara College.”




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