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Christianna Payne: A Career in Construction Budding From a Passion for STEM

construction worker in an open panelOriginally, Christianna Payne was interested in a career in interior design or architecture. However, she wanted more of a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). That’s how she began her career with Robins & Morton.

“It kind of happened on a whim,” Payne said of the opportunity that combined her two interests. “My brother introduced me to the construction career path.”

Payne first encountered Robins & Morton at a career fair. A friend of hers who worked an internship with Robins & Morton suggested that she should also apply to work with the general contractor. She ended up interning for two terms — one in Nashville, Tennessee, and another in Charleston, South Carolina. After getting some hands-on experience and her diploma in May 2018, Payne accepted a full-time offer with the firm.

Although construction fit her interest in design and desire to enter the STEM field. The work also fit well with her desire to travel and see the country.

“I asked to be in any place but Florida. I went to the University of Florida. My only request was don’t put me in Florida,” she said with a laugh.

Initially, Payne thought she only wanted to work in the field. However, she was placed in the office and she said it was a blessing in disguise. To her surprise, she loves the work she’s doing in the office, and she’s now on the path toward becoming a project manager.

The United States Department of Labor shows only 9.1% of construction workers are women — and it’s notoriously difficult to attract and retain women in construction careers. Payne wants to break that stereotype, sharing that the construction field is full of opportunities, especially for women.

“It’s a great career for women,” she said. “I would say there are so many opportunities in this industry — accounting, finance, hands-on, field opportunities, and it’s all very flexible depending on what your interests are. It’s also stable — especially building healthcare.”

The industry is also expected to experience 12% growth by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“A lot of people assume that a woman in construction will be treated differently,” she said. “What I’d say to that is that obviously you’re going to treat every person you meet differently. Any diversity brings a lot to any team. If you give respect, you’re going to get it back.”

Payne is currently working as a Project Engineer on a highly complex, $116-million renovation at the University of Texas Medical Branch John Sealy Hospital project in Galveston, Texas. The 220,000-square-foot project will consolidate women’s and children’s services that are currently scattered through several buildings into the modernized John Sealy Hospital, ultimately enhancing staff efficiency and patient services. Simultaneously, the team is removing a portion of the masonry façade of the building, providing waterproofing, and replacing the masonry façade along with glass and glazing for new windows.

Payne expects to be in Galveston for another two or three years. She loves the area, so she’s in no hurry to leave, but she’s also looking forward to whatever comes next.

“I think that’s what I like the most about construction — it pushes you outside of your comfort zone and you meet a lot of great people in great places.”

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  • John Sealy Hospital
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