Both Lauren Wiest and Bo Weber knew at a young age that they wanted to grow up and build something.
They just didn’t imagine it would be one of the largest construction projects in Davenport history.
Weber, 27, and Wiest, 26, are two of the engineers working on the $138.5 million construction and renovation project at Genesis Medical Center along East Rusholme Street in Davenport.
The young women are engineering school graduates of Iowa State University in Ames, and both of them chose engineering as a career after growing up in the Quad-City area.
Wiest is from Bettendorf and a 2007 graduate of Pleasant Valley High School. When she was young, she took a great interest in the construction of her family’s home.
Weber grew up on a farm in rural Rock Island County and enjoyed helping her father in his work. “Plus math and sciences was always my strong suit,” she noted. She graduated from Rockridge High School in 2006.
Got an early start
When Wiest’s parents were building a house, she’d often visit the place to clean up sawdust and keep the work site tidy. A sibling had allergies, so it was important to control the dust.
She first had an interest in architecture, but finally decided on construction engineering. “Once I started college, I never looked back. Some of my classes were just ridiculously hard, but I never wanted to do anything else,” she said.
Weber got an undergraduate degree in physics at Augustana College in Rock Island and then moved to Iowa State in civil engineering. Her interest was piqued when she job-shadowed a plant engineer on a job site.
She finished her degree work in Ames, and then it was a matter of looking for a construction management company she liked.
Today, both Weber and Wiest are project engineers. Weber works for Estes Construction, the local contractor on the Genesis job, and Wiest is from the Des Moines office of the J.E. Dunn Construction Co., the project’s national contractor.
More women in the field
The number of women in the engineering college at Iowa State has been growing year-to-year, said Joel Johnson, ISU’s director of engineering student services.
There are several statewide partnerships with science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, initiatives. There are outreach programs to underrepresented students, including women, and an active learning community called Women in Science and Engineering, or WISE.
All of these efforts work to increase student retention and academic success, Johnson said.
According to Iowa State information:
• Engineering students have a 95 percent placement rate six months after graduation, with an average starting salary of $62,000.
• Of the fall 2014 engineering enrollment of 8,789 students, 16.4 percent are female. The school also has its first female dean.
What do their jobs entail?
Weber and Wiest handle requests for information, or RFIs. Each deals with a number of different contractors on the Genesis project.
When there is a discrepancy in planning or materials, it is up to the project engineer to get an adjustment from the architect. The materials used must be exactly as specified, or the equivalent.
“We make sure subcontractors build to specifications from the architects and engineers,” Weber explained.
Every day on the job is different. Wiest said the tasks have grown easier in the past couple of years as older workers on job sites become more comfortable with texting on a cellphone.
“When I first started, texting was big among my friends but not so much on a job. Now we can text the subcontractors and that works really nice,” she said.
Why this job?
Wiest was on a project in Ames when her boss asked her if she’d like to return to her hometown for work. “I’m really close with my family, so I moved back,” she said, noting that she likely will return to her home office in Des Moines after her work at Genesis is complete.
Weber was early to arrive on the project, getting to the site in late 2013. She came in and field-verified information so the architect could finish the design.
“I was told when I was hired at Estes I’d probably be on this project,” she said.
Both women support the dreams of younger girls who also might want to grow up and become an engineer.
Weber pointed to the concept of teamwork, which begins in school and continues on a job site.
“There’s always a lot of teamwork, in school and on the job,” she said.
“There’s a strong perception that the work in this field is too difficult for women to take on,” she said. “But women have qualities — being organized, thinking through problems — that help when working side-by-side with men,” she added.
This story was written by Deirdre Baker (another ISU alumna) of the Quad City Times.