MCAA’s Women in the Mechanical Industry Sit Down to Talk About Their Careers & Opportunities for Women in Construction Week

March 10, 2023

MCAA is proud to have the opportunity to spotlight so many women in our industry this week in celebration of Women in Construction Week. Cheers to just some of the amazing talent that we have within MCAA! 

SUSAN AVALYAN, ARDEN ENGINEERING CONSTRUCTORS 

What brought you to this industry? 

A friend of mine referred me as an Assistant to the Accounting Department at a construction company and that’s how I fell in love with Construction Accounting. I was able to grasp the concept pretty quicky and was promoted to Bookkeeping within 6 months. 

What do you love about this industry? 

I love the fact that its different with every project from the size of the project to job cost to billing. With that it also brings a constant learning curve.  

What’s the coolest thing you’ve been involved in within the industry? 

I would say going paperless. It has been so great evolving with the times and making certain procedures less time consuming, which opened up time to take on more advanced tasks. 

What advice do you have for a female entering the industry? 

Construction Accounting is so different. You need to have an open mind and give yourself time to grasp the concept of Job Cost and how it affects and ties to all other aspects, it being Payroll, GL, AP and AR. Try to learn from others as much as you can, from estimating to PM’s. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If in doubt, ask. Also, know that your voice counts. Do not let anyone intimidate you or let you think that you are a lesser employee. Stand your ground. 

KATINA BLODGETT, JPG PLUMBING & MECHANICAL SERVICES INC. 

What brought you to this industry? 

I initially came to this industry in 1999 as an administrative assistant for a General Contracting Company.  My daughter had just been born and being a single mom, I was looking for a stable position where I would be able to learn and grow. Over the past 24 years, there have been new opportunities both professionally and personally that I have experienced because of this industry such as being a member of WiMI and (what is the name of the event that happens in October where they prepare homeowners plumbing for winter?).  In my current role as Service Director, I have found that service is incredibly rewarding. I love how fast-paced service is and that I still learn new things every day.   

What do you love about this industry? 

One of the many things that I love about this industry is that Service allows me to genuinely help others. Each day my team collaborates to create innovative and creative solutions to our customer’s problems. It gives me an incredible sense of pride when my team pulls together and supports each other to create a sense of calm within the chaos that service entails.  

What’s the coolest thing you’ve been involved in within the industry? 

Being a member of the Mechanical Service Contractors of America and the Mechanical Contractors Association of America is probably the coolest thing that I have been involved in within this industry.  Both the MSCA and the MCAA host events throughout the year that allow for networking opportunities where members who are typically competitors in the industry can come together and share ideas and learning opportunities with an emphasis on collaboration and growth.  

What advice do you have for a female entering the industry? 

My advice for a female entering this industry would be to ask lots of questions and always be on the quest for knowledge. Each day is a new opportunity to learn something new. As your knowledge of this industry grows, so will your confidence. As you create your own path in this industry, make sure to take the time to empower other women to grow and succeed as well. 

KELLEY BLOUNT, JOHN W. DANFORTH COMPANY 

 What brought you to this industry?  

I wanted a full-time career with good pay, health benefits and retirement. I had members of my family in the carpenter and sheet metal unions and came from a very pro-union background.  

What do you love about this industry?  

I love that I am constantly learning and doing new tasks. We often face challenges to get a job accomplished and have to come up with ideas for a solution.  

What’s the coolest thing you’ve been involved in within the industry?  

I have helped build two hospitals that I’m very proud of, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the OSU Wexner medical cancer center. It feels great going to work and knowing I get to be a small part of building something that will save lives.  

What advice do you have for a female entering the industry?  

I would tell females to have faith in themselves and try to have thick skin. We face a lot of adversity in the day to day just being female in a male dominated industry. Look for your sisters in the trade for support and encouragement.  

ELLEN GEILING, JPG PLUMBING AND MECHANICAL SERVICES  

What brought you to this industry?  

My brother John started working for a plumbing company in the 80’s.  In 2006, I followed him into the industry and joined him in starting JPG.  

 What do you love about this industry?  

I love that this industry focuses on helping the customer and the MCA member companies treat each other with respect as friendly competitors.  

What’s the coolest thing you’ve been involved in within the industry?  

The coolest thing I’ve been involved with in the industry is the Women in Mechanical initiative.  It’s great to see how excited women are to be part of a group that champions for their success.                

What advice do you have for a female entering the industry?  

I would advise females entering the industry to not take things personally, opportunities are endless, and they have the support of WiMI to help reach their goals.  

MEGHANN HENNRIKUS, ARC MECHANICAL 

What brought you to this industry? 

I went to school for Architectural Engineering in Vermont, and only ended up on the industrial mechanical side after I moved to Massachusetts.   There seemed to be a bigger need for Mechanical and Industrial CAD engineers, so I made the switch and was able to put my spatial design and CAD skills right to work.  I settled into Industrial Refrigeration, a niche business that has always kept me wanting to learn more.     

What do you love about this industry? 

I love the community that comes along with the Mechanical industry.  There are always lots of learning opportunities whether you attend a conference, vendor night, have a chat with a savvy technician or by trial and error.   It’s a fast-paced, keep-you-on-your-toes type of industry with lots of problem solving.  

What’s the coolest thing you’ve been involved in within the industry? 

I love the travel that comes along with this job.  I am always amazed by the beautiful places in New England, and I find it very cool to see it from an industrial standpoint.  One day I could be on a roof in Gloucester looking out at the fishing boats on the Atlantic, or in Maine watching a fresh blueberry harvest, or even standing on the ice at TD Garden.  I also find it pretty cool to have started a New England WiMI committee with a great group of like-minded ladies! 

What advice do you have for a female entering the industry? 

Stay confident, you work hard.  Do your research.  Always approach each task hoping to learn something! 

KELSEY IMHOF, STEAMFITTERS AND PLUMBERS LU 464 

What brought you to this industry? 

Starting out I didn’t know much about the industry, other than I wanted to work with my hands, and hopefully weld. But I was determined, and I wanted a career that I could be proud of.  

What do you love about this industry? 

I love the wide variety of skills utilized, it’s an industry you can never stop learning in. The people are amazing, and the constant change in work keeps things interesting. But what I love most is the satisfaction of completing a project knowing majority of the jobs I work on will still be functioning and benefiting society long after I’m gone. 

What’s the coolest thing you’ve been involved in within the industry? 

Every job is exciting, but I’ve had the opportunity to work on a few large scale projects that involved a lot of really cool work. If I’m working with a crane, or working in the air, odds are it’s a memorable day.  

What advice do you have for a female entering the industry? 

Show up on time, be confident in yourself, and be willing to learn. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to fail, some of the best learning lessons come from acknowledging and addressing a mistake. 

JAMIE JULIAN, JOHN W. DANFORTH COMPANY 

What brought you to this industry?  

I started my career in the public accounting field. One of my first large clients was a construction company. I leaned about the construction industry through the eyes of an auditor and after 5 years, I grew to love the industry. I approached leadership at Danforth regarding joining the company and I have been here ever since.   

What do you love about this industry? 

I love the collaboration process of successfully completing a construction project. While being on the Finance side of the industry, I collaborate with the Acquisitions and Operations teams continuously to ensure the success of our projects.  

What’s the coolest thing you’ve been involved in within the industry? 

I was involved in the collaboration of one of Danforth’s most unique projects, a Gigafactory located in South Buffalo, NY. The project was built on 88 acres of remediated land once occupied by a steel manufacturing facility. The building itself was 1.2 million square feet and took a little over 3 years to build. We used a helicopter to bring in large pieces of equipment due to the size and weight.   

What advice do you have for a female entering the industry? 

Don’t be afraid to voice your ideas and stand up for what you believe. Develop strong relationships with the other women and collaborate with them whenever possible.

SAM KING, AUBURN MECHANICAL  

What brought you to this industry? 

Transitioning from the Military to Civilian life, I knew I needed a career that offered stability, job security and career advancement openings. The HVAC field is exhilarating, in high demand and very extensive—from boilers and chillers to large air-conditioning systems and many different heating systems. The trade is constantly evolving and adapting to the future of the industry. I like that this craft includes understanding blueprints, schematics, ductwork, electrical and plumbing to complete an installation. You are constantly learning. 

What do you love about this industry? 

Working in the construction industry has been inspiring and empowering.  I am encircled with people who push me to be thrive every day. The industry is full of knowledgeable tradespeople who are happy to give insight into their particular craft. It has given me the chance to become a part of something bigger than myself. 

What’s the coolest thing you’ve been involved in within the industry? 

Using construction-based technology and software to take a conceptual design and turn it into 2D & 3D models, then to visually see the building being built has been the coolest way to take part in the construction industry. Experiencing the creation of a hospital, a school, a hotel or even a small business from the blueprints to the ended result has been motivating.  

What advice do you have for a female entering the industry? 

It takes several professional tradesmen’s skills & expertise combined to achieve a successful project. Don’t be intimidated. Be confident in yourself and your trade. Find a mentor. Network and build a support system of strong leaders who can help you shape your career.  

COURTNEY MARTIN, AUBURN MECHANICAL 

What brought you to this industry? 

After having my child I knew I needed a career, not a job that didn’t make me happy. I went through the ANEW program (a pre-apprenticeship program) and was introduced to all the trades in western Washington. What really drew me to plumbing was the opportunity for community outreach through non-profits like Plumbers Without Boarders. My goal is to be able to volunteer in under privileged communities when I obtain my 01 plumbing license. 

What do you love about this industry? 

I love so many things about our industry, but the one thing I appreciate the most is that this field employs a group of people that seem excited to have women in the work force. From companies to journeyman I am grateful to be surrounded by people who want to see me succeed. 

What’s the coolest thing you’ve been involved in within the industry? 

At work with Auburn Mechanical I was able to travel to the peninsula and assist my team with a boiler replacement job consisting of 4 boilers and a complete re-pipe of their water system surrounding those boilers. Not only was it an incredible learning experience but I loved that our field has the ability to work in remote and different areas of the state. 

Outside of work I am part of a steering committee in the union that is putting together an event happening twice a year to promote women and minorities inside our union. It is fulfilling being able to be a part of something like that. 

What advice do you have for a female entering the industry? 

Find a support system you can rely on. Even in a trade you are passionate about, surrounded by people who want to see you excel, you will have bad days where you question if this is right for you. Find someone that can remind you how incredible you are. One last thing I would say is just go for it, you’ll be happy you did. 

NICOLA SCHANNATH, OVENTROP CORPORATION 

What brought you to this industry? 

Actually, it was just a coincidence. I have a background in sales and business, and Oventrop, a family-owned global leader in the manufacturing of balancing valves and thermostatic radiator valves for the building industries, was hiring a Sales Manager for their international markets, something that perfectly matched my skill set. That was 17 years ago, and I decided to stay in this industry. 

What do you love about this industry? 

I love this industry because it is a relationship industry, and participating in different industry events, it is always great to see so many familiar faces. We can be successful and thrive professionally and personally by networking and supporting each other. 

Also, it is a great time to be working in this industry because one of the biggest challenges our industry is facing right now is digitization and providing solutions that help fight against climate change. Digitization changes the whole industry. This development requires new skills from manufacturers and contractors, and we also see an increasing demand in products that are suited for the digitization of homes and buildings.  But the ultimate challenge is climate change: Around one-third of our energy consumption is used for heating, cooling and potable hot water. With rising energy prices and the need to reduce CO2-emissions on a massive scale, topics such as energy efficiency and the use of renewable energies will further rise in importance.  

What’s the coolest thing you’ve been involved in within the industry? 

It’s hard to think of just one thing. I really enjoy meeting all these wonderful people at the different industry events and conventions. But being able to see our products being installed in any type of project – and sometimes some high-profile jobs – is something very exciting and rewarding. 

What advice do you have for a female entering the industry? 

Our industry is still very male-dominated, but the good thing is that this has been changing in the past few years with more female employees entering this industry . I would tell any female to be self-confident and trust in herself and in her skill set and not to be afraid to enter this industry. It is very rewarding to be gaining the respect of our male colleagues, no matter if it’s in construction, as an engineer, or in any other position such as sales or procurement. We can really make a huge difference by adding a “female touch” to an industry that has been male-dominated for so many decades. 

AMBER-ROSE SOUSA, ARDEN ENGINEERING CONSTRUCTORS 

What brought you to this industry? 

I grew up on Construction sites with my dad, and learned to use hand tools probably earlier than I am allowed to admit out loud (child labor laws). I had started College very earlier, (15yrs yikes) and after graduating I knew I wanted to hang up my tool belt and instead of being in the field I wanted to run projects. I have two older brothers both in Construction, one in the Carpenters Union and one a Project Manager, and then my dad is a Master Electrician and my step dad is a Master Pipe Fitter, I think you can say its in my blood.  

What do you love about this industry? 

What I love the most about the industry is that no projects are ever the same. From a university to an Intermediate School (kind of wish I could go back and repeat their pretty glamorous) Hospitals, Youth Buildings, Science Labs to even prisons (not very glamourous but they need maintaining too). The scenery is always different. Not only is my scenery different every day, but I have always truly felt this is the best use of my leadership and organizational skills, which I find very fulfilling. I have always been very detail and process oriented. Lists and planners had been my academic and professional tools of choice since grade school and as a Senior Project Manager, I know I am using my talents to the best of my ability.  

What’s the coolest thing you’ve been involved in within the industry? 

Everyday is pretty cool being a Senior project manager. (Being a women in a predominately male industry its definitely the coolest) But mostly being able to say something along the lines of, are you familiar with Hasbro Children’s Hospital Renovation, I was part of that project, Or Providence College Shanley Hall Dorm rooms or their Science Building Renovation I am part of that project too. Last year I was able to travel to Texas and be part of a WiMI Convention, and I think its pretty cool that a group of us ladies came back and started a local New England WiMI Committee. 

What advice do you have for a female entering the industry? 

Be confident, ask questions, don’t hesitate, be assertive, but not rude. Learn and grow. Don’t be afraid to get out in the field. It is not glamorous, but it is the best way to learn all aspects of your industry. Women who work and to the best of their abilities will be respected by their peers, and in the field. Work hard and show passion, actions speak louder than words. 

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