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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Breaking the Construction Management gender barrier is a snap

December 16, 2014
Construction Management instructor Andria Marrs
Andria and Jakob enjoy the life her degree in Construction Management brought them.

In 2007, 24-year-old bartender Andria Marrs came home one day and told her parents, Pamela and Jerry, “Mom and Dad, I’m going back to school, and I’m not paying you rent anymore.”

Andria and her 4-year-old son Jakob were living with them, and Andria just could not seem to get a financial foothold to be able to be independent from her parents. She decided to take dramatic action and enrolled in SJVC Rancho Cucamonga’s (now SJVC Ontario‘s) 14-month Construction Management (CM) program.

“I googled ‘top paying jobs for the least amount of education’ and found out that 7 out of 10 were in construction,” says Andria. “That was a huge draw for me.”

It turns out that Pamela and Jerry were happy to forgo the rent, if it meant their daughter and grandson would have a better future long-term. Besides, Jerry had owned a small construction business and knew there was money to be made in that industry. “They were so excited,” says Andria. “I got really lucky because a lot of students who go through that door don’t have that kind of support.”

But, in a male-dominated industry, how was Andria going to perform? “I had zero experience in that field, but I got an ‘A’ in the first class, and it made my confidence soar,” she says. By the time graduation rolled around in 2008, Andria was not only the first female in the CM program to achieve a 4.0 GPA, she was the first graduate to have held that grade.

Andria tucked her success and her new A.S. degree under her belt and accepted a full-time position as an estimator for a construction company. She knew that advancement was a pretty fast climb in this field, and she was ready.

“Construction in general, it is typical to double or triple your salary within 5 years,” says Andria. “Also, not a lot of people have a degree, so a degree means more here than in other industries.”

Andria was a great match for her new career. “When people think of the construction industry, they think of calloused hands, working in the dirt and too much sun,” says Andria. “But, this is a management degree, so what you do is organize, direct and control the construction project.”

Andria stayed in touch with a few staff at the college and, after a couple of years, found herself doing a little substitute teaching in the Construction Management class. A sudden need for a full-time instructor made her the top candidate. She took the job…and the leap of faith that she could give her students something special.

“I just feel so grateful for what SJVC did for me that I just had to come back and be there to help other people be successful in the program in the way it was for me,” says Andria.

“Andria is not afraid to stretch herself out of the classroom and into unknown territory,” says Davina Cary, Division Manager. “It is a privilege to have a faculty member with such an infectious, positive attitude, motivation and passion in whatever she is doing.”

Teaching full-time had its challenges for her. “This is a testosterone-driven field and, especially as a female, you have to prove yourself; and it’s the same in teaching.”

Andria has been teaching CM for a year now, and has hit her stride with her teaching style. She knows, first-hand, the challenges many of her students face. “My students are my heroes, especially our military guys here.”

“Sometimes you just need to have one person tell you, ‘You can do it!'” says Andria. “SJVC can be such a healing place for so many people. That’s the value of SJVC – to be part of something bigger.”

Andria found some of her own healing there. “My life is drastically different from when I was 24 years old,” she says of her struggle as a single mom trying to make it on a bartender’s salary.  Andria’s dad has a little saying that helped her get through hard times. “They can’t eat you,” he would say. “No matter what you’re going through, it won’t consume you.”

She passes that surety along to her students.

“A lot of our students wouldn’t go to traditional colleges, but they still have hopes to be something special,” says Andria. “I have very driven students who want success, and that just makes me work harder because I want them to achieve that.”

As she did in her bartending days, Andria knows how to set ’em up…for their greatest success.

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