UD alumna and construction engineer Emily Christopher discusses her path, her industry
When hearing the word "construction," it's likely that men in hard hats operating heavy machinery come to mind. There’s a reason for this: Women are only 14% of the national construction industry workforce. University of Delaware alumna Emily Christopher — a Class of 2022 graduate with a construction engineering and management degree — doesn’t let this statistic deter her.
While at UD, Christopher participated in TEDxUniversity of Delaware 2020 and gave a talk on women in construction. She also founded the University’s chapter of Construction Engineers of America (CEA) to help provide students with a head start on their careers and connect with workforce professionals. Today, she’s a mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) project engineer at Gilbane Building Company. Christopher shared her UD journey and thoughts on how society can encourage more women to pursue construction careers.
Q: Could you describe a typical day in your professional life?
Christopher: I am a project engineer, and I work in construction management. Day to day, I spend time both on site, seeing what's happening on the field and superintendent side, and at my desk, working on subcontractor coordination and cost management on the engineering side.
Q: What are some of the greatest challenges and opportunities working in your field?
Christopher: Construction management is a high-risk but high-reward industry. It is challenging because there are a lot of moving parts, including money, time and people, but you also have the opportunity to help create really cool projects and be a part of the process from start to finish.
Q: How did UD impact your journey — both personally and professionally?
Christopher: While at UD, I was fortunate to be mentored and taught by the late Dr. Edgar Small, the founding director of the UD Construction Engineering and Management Program. Professor Small was a motivation to all the students in the program and was an advocate for the program and all students alike. I enjoyed my time at UD immensely and was given many opportunities to grow and learn.
Q: Why is it important for women to contribute to — and become leaders within — the construction industry?
Christopher: I believe that if you are interested in a profession, you should feel comfortable pursuing it, regardless of who has done it historically. I have been extremely lucky to grow up and work around women who are strong and taught me that you can do anything you put your mind to regardless of your gender. Having more women in construction is a great opportunity for new perspectives, but it also paves the way for others to consider it a viable career option.
Q: How can we break down barriers to encourage more women to pursue careers in construction?
Christopher: Strong women role models can inspire young women to pursue their interests regardless of historical norms. Allowing young kids to participate in STEM-related activities can foster a passion. Also, having professors, teachers and mentors that encourage you to get involved and achieve great things can make a huge impact on students’ lives.
Q: Who is your favorite historical female figure? What do you admire about her?
Christopher: My favorite historical female figure is Dr. Mae Jemison. She is an engineer, NASA astronaut and one of the most accomplished women of our time as the first Black woman to travel into space. My favorite quote is hers, "Don't let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It's your place in the world; it's your life. Go on and do all you can with it and make it the life you want to live."