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San Joaquin Valley College Blog


April 27, 2023

Maria Barragan and Gem Agustin are the only two women out of thirty students in the Electrical Technology program at the SJVC Modesto campus. They were recently awarded Women in Construction scholarships at a luncheon hosted by the Valley Builders Exchange (VBE), an organization whose primary goal is to serve as a hub in the Central Valley for the construction community.


With this scholarship their goal is to encourage women to enter the construction business. Currently, the US Department of Labor states that approximately only 10% of those employed by the construction industry in the US are women*.


When asked as a woman how she views entering a male dominated field, Gem replied, “I don’t believe it matters whether you are a man or a woman; it’s how you dedicate yourself to reaching your dream. It’s a matter of earning the skills and doing the job.”


It will help her to have such a clear goal; the Department of Labor states of the percentage of women who are in the US construction business, only 2.1% are Asian.**


VBE is encouraging more women to enter the technical side of the construction industry. These two female scholarship winners are exciting examples of what the future can bring to young women who like math, are curious, and enjoy the discovery of learning new things.


Before Maria Barragan attended SJVC’s Electrical Technology program, she says “all I knew about electricity was turning on a light switch and boom! – there was light.”  Following her passion to learn new things, from her very first class she was “in awe” of electricity’s properties and wondered, “Why doesn’t everyone learn how electricity works?” From that moment she wanted to learn everything she could about it.


As Maria heads toward the completion of her studies this summer and looks toward the future of her career, she says, “There is nothing more rewarding than the feeling of overcoming something that you never would have thought yourself capable of.”


Gem Agustin, born and raised in the Philippines, already knew she wanted a career in what she saw was the future: computers, electrical programming and new technology. She worked as a project manager at a construction job alongside civil and electrical engineers. The intricacy of the electrical part of the work intrigued her. However, she could see the opportunities in her home country were limited for electricians.


Gem’s mother was in the US already, so Gem was planning to emigrate. Just one year away from graduating with a computer degree from a Filipino university, Gem realized she could not finish because of the 23-year-old age limit to enter the US. Thinking she could transfer her credits to a US college, she discovered upon arrival that was not possible. Devastated with the loss of those credits, Gem had to face the fact that she must start over again if she wanted to achieve her goal.


“Even though I wasn’t able to finish the degree in the Philippines, it doesn’t mean I have to step down from my dream. If it’s really your dream, you just need to keep going.” And she did, taking on not one but two university programs and a full-time job after arriving in the US.  As her name implies, the pressures and obstacles she overcame made her stronger and more resilient, like a beautiful jewel.


“You must have real perseverance, and an attitude to meet whatever circumstances come. Rejection and failure are everywhere – but if you change your attitude and see it as a learning experience, you can just keep opening other doors even if one closes on you. Just keep knocking.”


Christine Reyes-Muhammed, the Enrollment Services Director for SJVC Modesto, said Maria and Gem found the experience of the awards luncheon very inspiring. “These young women are very determined,” she said. “Both come from unique backgrounds and were appreciative of the scholarship. They are amazing women and I believe will do big things in their trades.”







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