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Women in Construction: ‘Strong to the Finish’

Kahua is highlighting some of our customers, partners and employees for Women in Construction Week 2022. Today, we talk to Cherie Chenoweth – Coordinator of Facilities Business Department and oversees the Accounting and Procurement for Construction, Maintenance & Operations and Transportation – for the San Juan Unified School District in California. 

What was the thing that sparked your interest in construction?
Working in school construction provides a great feeling when you get to see the students’ faces as they walk into a remodeled classroom or school. You experience the excitement of seeing the work from start to finish. This is what I like the most about being on the construction side of the house. For most systems in the school district environment, you only see a piece of the picture.  

Are you seeing more women entering this field? How has that changed since you started in it?
Yes, we are seeing more women enter the field of construction at different levels. Although there is still a lot more room for improvement to get women more involved. It’s great being in a school district that is TK – 12, because girls are now being educated at a young age about the opportunities in construction. We have rebuilt schools that have STEM programs, and this has opened more opportunities for girls to see programs they, too, can be a part of. In the STEM program, all students have equal opportunity because it has the prerequisite within the education requirements.  

With the lack of tradespeople, how can we encourage women to consider positions in the construction industry?
Girls need to be taught that construction jobs can be as lucrative as other more traditional jobs for women. There need to be more apprenticeships geared for girls and also for women who are moms. For example, when I was going to school, they offered Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) and explained that women welders are needed. I became a welder after completing ROP.  

How did it feel when you moved into a leadership position for the first time?
I was proud that the hard work that I have been doing was recognized. 

How are you helping/mentoring others advance?
I have been a mentor for most of my adult life. In 2004 I developed a non-profit travel softball program for girls who didn’t have the resources to play travel ball. I supported girls in the recruitment process and helped them find a college that was a good fit for their success. Softball was not just a game; it taught girls responsibility and how to be the best they could be. My saying was “Strong to the finish.” I have seen these girls become women who are successful college graduates, mothers, workers and leaders. To this day I still hear from some of them.  

In 2013 I was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer with an 18% chance to beat it, which took me off the field for safety reasons. But I stayed strong to the finish and completed goal after goal: nine surgeries, 18 weeks of chemo, seven days of radiation. I am still here today mentoring students and working in the job I chose and love.