Faculty Inspires Career Paths and Promotes Support for Women in Construction

Providing faculty and students with opportunities to engage in energizing forms of scholarly work is paramount to the quality of education at Cal Poly. Faculty scholarship in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design focuses on innovative approaches to shaping and serving the built environment. This work informs the next generation of planners, architects, engineers and builders as they prepare to pursue careers focused on improving the quality of the places and structures that serve society. 

In 2022, faculty member Stacy Kolegraff led and organized activities to engage and support women in construction during the Girls Build Summer Academy and Verifying Everyone’s Safety Together (VEST) Hackathon.

Faculty member Stacy Kolegraff (LEFT) at Girls Build Summer Academy and VEST Hackathon.



Campers and volunteer helpers (from left): Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters members Jonathan Duran and Alex Perez; campers Molly Berkeland, Ella Pontius, Sonora Clemens, Kasey Contreras, Maile Sipes, Madeline Blasingame, Evie Spence Kasperovich and Scarlette Spence-Gravell; and Brookfield Properties’ Jennifer Mulligan. 

Nine girls from throughout San Luis Obispo County attended the inaugural camp, held on campus for girls entering ninth through 12th grades and recent high school graduates. The camp was developed by Cal Poly students and faculty in collaboration with the local Home Builders Association of the Central Coast and its Professional Women in Building chapter.  

“We packed a lot into those five days,” Kolegraff said. “Each day was split into different activities. Mornings featured a discussion about different career opportunities. Then the girls participated in hands-on activities, learning to use a chop saw, table saw and skill saw. They framed a wall, created forms and lamps, soldered copper pipe and created copper roses and poppies. By the end, they all had personal protective equipment, a tool bag and multiple tools, including hammers, tape measures, screwdrivers, utility blades and pencils — all at no cost [to the participants].” 

1) Lindsey Hatcher, executive director of the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast, has Sonora Clemens’ attention as she wires a lamp 2) Academy participant Brooklyn Clemens hones her sawing skills. 

Several companies donated funds through the WIC campaign in 2022, including: SC Builders, Cahill, Whiting Turner, Radians, PCL, Webcor, Gilbane, Brookfield Properties, Western Allied Mechanical and Milender White. Williams Homes donated hard hats. 

Kolegraff said the highlight of the week was watching the girls’ confidence grow. “Several of the girls had some building experience or were very artistic, and they became leaders or supporters of the others. By Thursday, they were confident using all the tools, had feelings of accomplishment and realized that they could do everything that was asked of them.” 



Hackathon participants assessed the current safety vest design on day one and teamed up to create a better one. Each team kept a journal to note project details.

The two-day event, held on campus in April 2022, was created in response to a student’s senior project that purports an overwhelming number of construction workers — mostly women — do not have proper-fitting safety vests, leading to unsafe situations and a loss of confidence on the job site.  

“The goal was to develop safety gear that acknowledges, is designed for and provides safety for a variety of body types,” Kolegraff said. “The event encouraged industry members to work alongside students to develop better, safer, functional and appropriate safety vests.” 

Kolegraff worked with Kylie Parrotta, assistant professor in the Social Sciences Department, to organize the event, which attracted 45 participants, including 25 industry members, some faculty and students. In addition, CM seniors Cole Bernabei, Oliver Leograndis, Amanda Schrader and Sophie Stewart helped organize and run the event as their senior project.   

Team members get to work, using the materials provided to tackle the challenge.

The first day, the participants discussed the problem and inspiration behind the event, and teams were created. On day two, “We cut up existing safety vests, made changes, sewed new designs,” Kolegraff said. “At the end of the day, we judged the vests and came up with winners in three categories: Best Features, Most Creative Design and Crowd Favorite.”  

1) Ian Thomas (’18) and Lindsey Rowland, both of Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, collaborate on sewing their team’s vest 2) “Scrunch VZ” by C.W. Driver, Milender White and Baker Electric submit their vest redesign and specifications for judges’ review

According to Kolegraff, the highlight of the event was “getting together with such a diverse group of people to solve a problem. There was a great collaboration between all the participants and great energy in the room.” 

The VEST Hackathon was funded entirely by industry supporters PCL Construction, Radians, Webcor, SC Builders, WhitingTurner, Western Allied Mechanical, Brookfield Properties, Cahill Contractors and Millender White, as well as individual support from three employees of Gilbane Building Co. and one DeWalt employee. 

The Girls Build Summer Academy was partially funded by a $100,000 HELP grant from the National Housing Endowment under two separate initiatives: supporting and encouraging more women to join the industry and partnering with local high schools to help train skilled workers. 

In addition, many local firms and CMAC members served as guest speakers or volunteers at the summer academy, including Sprig Electric, Rosendin Electric, Precision Services Inc., Williams Homes, SESLOC, Kitchell, Brookfield Properties, Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters and Cumming Group. 

Teacher Scholar Fellowships awards provide release time from teaching or other assigned work to pursue scholarly activity leading to professional development that enhances students’ educational opportunities. It can be used to conduct research, engage in creative practice, prepare manuscripts, chair scholarly conferences, and more.  

If you would like to contribute to the CM Faculty Innovation Fund, please consider donating by clicking on Give Now below or visiting the endowment page to learn more about how you can support faculty like Stacy. 


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