A photo collage of the School of Building Construction's female faculty, in the style of Lunch Atop a Skyscraper.
Image: Tyrone Davis/College of Design

Georgia Tech Builds Earth-Shifting Change
for the Construction Industry

Georgia Tech Builds Earth-Shifting Change
for the Construction Industry

Ann Hoevel | Mar 9, 2023 — Atlanta, GA

One of the most iconic and enduring images of the construction industry is Lunch Atop a Skyscraper from 1932. The photo captured construction workers eating lunch on an I-beam that was 850 feet above ground at the site of 11 Rockefeller Center.

A publicity photo, the staged image conveyed a message of progress during the Great Depression. The chair of the Georgia Tech School of Building Construction, Ece Erdogmus, said it also shows how the construction industry retains century-old qualities.

“This summer, my Master’s student, Candace Washington (who is now a Ph.D. candidate), and I surveyed a small sample of female high school students, asking what they thought about construction. They said things like, ‘it's hard work,’ ‘it's outdoors,’ and ‘it's for men.’ They came up with words that described labor and the physicality of the construction site,” Erdogmus said.

Construction managers, for example, were not a part of their construction descriptions, she said, but the high school students got one thing right: today’s construction industry is not diverse.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that between 2003 and 2020, only one in 10 construction industry employees were women.

Erdogmus is ready to change perceptions about the construction industry, and she’s starting with her faculty.

71% Tenure-Track Women Faculty

Omobolanle Ogunseiju demonstrates exoskeleton technology to a building construction class.
Photo: School of Building Construction
Assistant professor Omobolanle Ogunseiju, right, demonstrates exoskeleton technology to a building construction class.

When Erdogmus became chair of the School of Building Construction in 2021, one of her first tasks was to fill two faculty positions. After a rigorous process by the search committee, the two candidates hired happened to be women.

“When that happened,” Erdogmus said, “I said ‘Okay, wait a second. We just became a construction program with 71 percent female tenure-track faculty and approximately 50 percent female when all full-time and part-time faculty are included. It's got to be some sort of a record.” Most peer construction schools come in between seven and 25% for combined full- and part-time female faculty, she said.

One of 71%, Assistant Professor Eunhwa Yang, said the change in the School’s faculty has been “a life changer.”

“When I joined the faculty in 2016, I was one of three female faculty,” Yang said. Yang is also an alumna (M.S. BC 2009). When she began her journey at the School, there was one full-time professor who was a woman, she said.

“Recently we had a banquet for our School,” Yang said. “Our keynote speaker was Nancy Juneau, the CEO of Juneau Construction. She talked about her career progression, how she became the CEO, it was an amazing story. But having my School’s chair and then the female CEO from Juneau Construction talking to each other was a celebration for me. My heart was fireworks, everywhere.”

“That kind of publicity and representation will change the dynamics of how the male-dominated field of construction will respond. In fact, they’re already responding,” she said.

As It Turns Out, the Construction Industry Wants Diversity

When Erdogmus meets with construction industry leaders, they want to talk about graduating students, she said. Not only because they’re looking to hire a technologically-savvy Georgia Tech grad, but because they’ve got diversity initiatives top-of-mind, Erdogmus said.

“They're asking us for more diverse construction managers,” she said. “They want to change and the path to change goes through higher education.”

The School of Building Construction can start that change with the undergraduate program, Erdogmus said. “The undergraduate program's name is changing to Bachelor of Science in Construction Science and Management, to better reflect the career path and the rigor of the degree. It's also a change informed by a student and alumni survey we did,” said Erdogmus.  

“We can have the student body that's challenging the industry’s status quo because of the teachers they’ve had, the lessons they’ve learned, and the cross-pollination they get at an institute like Georgia Tech. That way, slowly, we change the industry itself,” she said.

“If, say, the construction industry looks completely different in 10 years because of Georgia Tech, that's super exciting. And it’s the best chance the industry ever had to look like the image we created.”

“Ece is a big deal,” said Jacquelyn Schneider, one of the members of the School’s Advisory Board. Schneider earned her Bachelor of Science in Building Construction (BSBC) from Georgia Tech in 2006 and later got an MBA from the Scheller College of Business in 2018. She is now a senior manager at Jabian Consulting.

“She and the School of Building Construction are really tilling the soil. It's going to be amazing to see the fruition that comes out of [Erdogmus’] personal investment,” Schneider said.

Get Ready for the Construction Graduates

The reactivated Bachelor of Science in Building Construction program will graduate its first students this May and through the Summer. Three of the four graduating students are women.

“Sometimes people (in the construction industry) aren’t ready for a Georgia Tech grad,” Schneider said. “We are a force to be reckoned with.”

“You really hone confidence in this program. You come out and are ready to take on any type of challenge. When you learn construction, you're really building buildings. You're changing the world in a very real way.”

One of this spring’s soon-to-be-graduates, Isabelle Williams, is dual majoring in architecture and building construction.

“I started as an architecture major at Georgia Tech and found myself gravitating towards the practicality of design and pragmatism in the built environment,” Williams said. When she adopted the additional building construction major, it was easy to fall in love with the School’s people, curriculum, and studies, she said.

“The major is unlike other construction management programs because it teaches construction from a technological foundation.”

It also, according to fellow BSBC student Molly McLeod, gives students a sneak peek at “what the new wave of the construction industry will look like.”


Christian Paul, Candace Washington, and Ece Erdogmus look at construction plans in the Student Center.
Christian Paul (left) shows Candace Washington (center) and Ece Erdogmus (right) construction plans during a site visit to the Georgia Tech Student Center project. Photo: School of Building Construction.


“We meet many female leaders from the industry through our classes’ construction site visits. During Spring 2022, Christian Paul (a Project Executive at Gilbane Building Company and lecturer for the School) was in charge of the Georgia Tech Student Center renovation. She allowed our class to go on her site and see in person the material that we were learning about during the course she taught.”

Erdogmus recruited Paul to teach for the School. Paul won the Georgie award for Best Teacher at the School’s inaugural fall banquet

“I see her as a role model, and I’m excited to know that I, too, can reach her level of success one day,” McLeod said.

Xiomara Aliaga, a BSBC student from Gwinnett County, Georgia, said, “Though the construction industry is predominantly male, Georgia Tech's Building Construction program demonstrates that construction is not only limited to men. Women are also allowed to enjoy and be passionate about construction. Dr. Erdogmus has definitely done an amazing job being able to include women faculty and instructors."

"If it weren't for her, I wouldn't be in this program.”

Photo collage of women faculty in the style of Lunch Atop a Skyscraper.
Image: Tyrone Davis/College of Design
School of Building Construction faculty pose in the style of "Lunch Atop a Skyscraper." From left to right: Semsi Coskun, Candace Washington, Pardis Pishdad-Bozorgi, Ece Erdogmus, Eunhwa Yang, Jing Wen, Omobolanle Ogunseiju, Alexandra Moutaftchieva.

Media Inquiries

Ann Hoevel
Director of Communications
College of Design
E-mail Ann Hoevel
+1 404-385-0693