Ashley began her unique journey in Ontario, Canada with a typical education and family life that was well rounded and supportive. In high school she developed a passion for Architecture so she took drafting classes and soon decided she might want to become an architect. In Canada, the educational path is a little different than the U.S. with the option of attending College, which is directly career-oriented and offers practical or hands-on training, as opposed to University, which is more lecture based learning that can grant degrees.
Ashley opted for the College route and attended Mohawk College where she earned her Associates Degree in Architectural Engineering, and similar to programs here in the U.S. required co-op experience. She found herself sitting at a computer all day and drawing on AutoCAD endlessly and quickly recognized it was not something she could do for the rest of her career. Fortunately she had a professor (she is still in touch with him to this day) who had her best interest at heart and suggested she “split” her major into design or construction management. Little did she realize this suggestion would change the entire direction of her career path.
After graduation, as she started to explore opportunities in Canada with General Contractors for estimating roles, it became clear there were no jobs for the inexperienced. She was now convinced she needed to further pursue construction management, but there were few schools in her area that offered it so she applied to Wentworth with a recommendation letter from her aforementioned professor. The response was a top scholarship for a two year program (she was able to transfer credits from Mohawk) and a future co-op at Skanska as a field engineer. Ashley shares that she felt like a fish out of water never having been on a job site before, not to mention being beyond shy, timid and scared. Despite the challenges she graduated with an almost 4.0 and stayed on with Skanska for four years as a field engineer, project engineer and finally assistant superintendent. With enough experience under her belt she now knew that field work was her passion. Ashley says “Being on site was where I learned how things went together, solved problems on the fly and met a different challenge every day.
She moved on to BOND as Assistant Superintendent and worked for almost 2 years on the Neiman Marcus - Natick Collection where her primary responsibilities included acting as lead superintendent for the 13 vendor shops within the store. Some of her responsibilities entailed managing the subs, logistics and scheduling. She also worked directly with the individual Architects and reps for each shop and with Neiman Marcus on site representative. Looking back she says it was an amazing learning experience. She jokingly says she knew she made it when she got “written up” in the port o potty. Following the Neiman Marcus project she got pulled back into the office and once again found herself in an environment that did not support her passion.
Grateful to BOND for their support she decided to move on and joined Shawmut where she was hired as Assistant Superintendent and over her 6 year tenure became Project Superintendent. It was a difficult time in the industry due to the recession but she says Shawmut did a terrific job in retaining top employees but most especially women. She said it was here that she recognized the value of aligning herself with other women. Up until then, with few women in the field, there was an uncertainty of competition or support between female colleagues and things could actually get a bit territorial. For every 1,000 men working in the industry there may have been 10 women so it was easy to be intimidated and become discouraged.
She says it was a hard and humbling lesson for her to learn to keep her emotions in check and develop an inner toughness with-out it becoming a perpetual chip on her shoulder. Back then, she said she wished there was someone who she could trust to have conversations with-but also admits that those hard lessons made her who she is today. She now openly encourages and mentors her female counter parts at every opportunity and hopes other women in the industry will pass it along.
She has an impressive list of projects throughout her career but shares she is most proud of the Terminal A Project at Logan Airport, and the Neiman Marcus at Natick Collection – both defining and formidable projects in her career. Ashley says it’s an amazing feeling to revisit these locations and be able to say “wow, I did that, I was a part of a team that built that”!
With more than 10 years of experience and skills under her belt, she made the decision to move back into project management with Sea-Dar Construction. Her field experience has given her the in-depth knowledge in the commercial construction process and she recommends everyone should spend some time in the field.
As PM for almost 3 years now, she manages materials, subs, scheduling, superintendent, client and architect needs, costs and generally solving day to day problems. It’s a lot of juggling but she thoroughly enjoys the fast pace and various challenges each day brings. The Sea-Dar environment is highly interactive and social with a focus on wellness and work-life balance. All Sea- Dar employees are business development representatives and build business through relationships. Currently celebrating their 25th year anniversary, Sea-Dar hopes to be soon considered as one of the best places to work in the Boston area.
As for Ashley’s future she says she can see herself going beyond the PM role and working to help Sea-Dar grow. Networking plays an important role in that growth and Ashley has been a valuable member to outside organizations that include the AGC CLC, Code and BWiC Committees.
Not all career paths are straight forward but as Ashley has demonstrated there is a learning opportunity at every turn that eventually leads you to personal success.
Thank you Ashley for sharing your experiences and supporting our mission of Building Women in Construction!