How Did You Get into Construction?

If I only had a penny for every time I faced this question.  I imagine the question comes from the realization that, as a Black woman, I am a rarity in this industry.  But no matter the origin of the curiosity, my answer is probably one you'd never guess.  

Marlin (Tina) Sylvester.jpg

How did you get into Construction?

It all started with a boy and a basketball.  We both loved the sport and grew up like Monica and Quincy from Love and Basketball.  (But only in the basketball perspective though.  No romantic fairytale ever followed which has been completely fine with both of us AND his wife).  He was like a brother to me and I admired him, so when he wanted to play ball at Booker T. Washington High School, well… so did I.

Since we lived on the east side of Houston in Pleasantville, nowhere near Booker T’s school zoning, we had to take an entrance exam for admittance.  At least that’s what I was told anyway.  I had no idea that the exam was for a vanguard, college prep program for “The High School for Engineering Professions” (HSEP) which just so happened to be on the campus of Booker T.  I was clueless.  I was a young freshman in for a big surprise, however, I survived.  Four years later I shot my last jumper on the Varsity team, earned a handful of academic scholarships, and was ready for college.  I picked Mechanical Engineering as a college major because, well… why not?

All was well for me at Texas A&M University and I had no complaints.  But then came a pesky bug that I’m still quite allergic, dry-eyed, and itchy to when it’s near me.  They call it Calculus.  I call it Confusion.  I flunked out of Engineering, lost my biggest scholarship, and had to pick a new major because of it.  It’s a wicked subject.  I found myself gathering the fragments of my confidence and strolling over to the College of Architecture on TAMU’s campus to talk with the Construction Science Department Head.  As a kid, I remember being inspired by my mom who worked for Bechtel then Flour which have been the two biggest players in the entire industry of construction related markets for years, while making history as a black female draftswoman there.  I thought, “Ah-ha!  This is it.  This construction stuff is in my blood.  This major is for me”.  I applied.  Then, praise God… I was accepted.

Now, based on the way the COSC Department at TAMU was setup, students were trained extensively to write compelling resumes, develop attractive interviewing skills, and had to mandatorily attend career fairs.  The department significantly prepared me for employment - it still has the highest post-graduation hire rates in Texas for construction employment.  I accepted one of my job offers from those career fairs and I have been in the Commercial Construction industry ever since.  I currently work for AECOM, the 3rd largest company in construction related markets.

Shout out to Randy Burns II, The High School for Engineering Professions, and the COSC Dept. Head Leslie Feigenbaum.  Thank you for your influence in shaping the path of my technical career.  

By the way: I never got scouted from high school but the boy (Randy) went off to play for Wichita State University, was the No. 1 scorer, featured in Sports Illustrated, and lead them to their first NCAA Tournament appearance among other cool stats.  I’m still proud of him and he’s still like a brother…with an amazing wife!