Spotlight on the Women of Atkinson’s Underground Team

As part of Women’s History Month, our Employee Spotlight series is focused on showcasing some of the talented women who make up Atkinson Construction.

This week, we’re going to learn more about Gabrielle Ferro, Maria Pinales, and Emelina (Sarah) Espejo of the Atkinson Underground team!

Gabrielle Ferro
Project Manager

What is your role at Atkinson?

I am a project manager at the Atlanta Airport's Plane Train project and am part of the team responsible for terminal renovations.

What drew you to a career in the construction industry?

I have always been interested in how things are built and how they work, and I have a passion for STEM. Construction is a great combination of these things, and it provides me with an opportunity to make a positive impact on the community I live in.

What qualities do you need to be successful in this industry?

You need to be a team player, a self-starter, and passionate.

It takes a team to successfully complete a project, so being able to work well with others is crucial.

I have also found the best way to learn and grow is to ask for opportunities. The roles I have enjoyed and learn the most from are the ones I've volunteered for.

Last, but definitely not least, passion for what we do. I know "do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life" can sound very cliché, but I think it's one of the most important qualities needed for success.

What is your favorite project you have ever worked on and why?

The Plane Train project.

First of all, I'm a huge engineering nerd. Since I was a kid, I have been interested in planes, trains, tunnels, and building architecture. The Plane Train project is a combination of everything I have always been passionate about.

Second, the project has a multitude of challenges or "opportunities to excel", as we like to call them. The progressive design-build project is in the busiest part of the world's busiest airport with several stakeholders involved. We must make sure everyone’s concerns are addressed and minimize our disruption to them.

Third, this project also has some unique engineering challenges such as transferring terminal column loads from shallow foundations to deep foundations and then mining two tunnels underneath three overhead structures.

Lastly, I would be remised to not mention our amazing team. Our design-build team has been cohesive, great to work with and learn from. Almost everyone on the team is from a different area of the country and has worked on a variety of projects. Everyone brings their own experiences and lessons learned to solve problems in the way most efficient and beneficial to the Owner and stakeholders.

What is your proudest professional achievement?

When a new woman engineer asked me to be her mentor. I have always been passionate about helping younger engineers, so when an engineer on another project asked for my advice about careers and balancing life outside of work was very fulfilling.

What is the biggest challenge of being a woman working in construction?

Sometimes it can be difficult for women to see a future for themselves at the executive level when there are no women currently serving those roles. It has been positive to see the number of female executives increase each year since I started.

How do you think construction can attract more female candidates?

We need to reach out to elementary and middle school girls more and let them know about the opportunities within engineering and construction. At that age, girls decide if they want to pursue the more advanced STEM classes. I think there are a lot of women who would be successful in this career but are not aware of the different paths within it.

What advice do you have for a young woman looking to enter the industry?

No matter your role, jump in feet first and maximize your learning opportunities, especially from the craft laborers. Our craft workers have a wealth of knowledge and always are excited to teach the management staff their trade.

Each job is unique and teaches you lessons you can use on the next project. Except maybe how to make belt dryer biosolid fertilizer. Although, who knows? That could come up again on a future project too!

Maria Pinales
Project Administrator 

What is your role at Atkinson?

I work as a project administrator and consider myself a jack of all trades.

What drew you to a career in the construction industry?

I loved the fact that there is never a dull moment and that each project is unique and offers a new experience.

What qualities do you need to be successful in this industry?

I think the most important qualities to thrive in this industry are perseverance and adaptability. 

What is your proudest professional achievement?

It is either having the opportunity to oversee Atkinson Underground’s college recruiting efforts or planning our “Hole-Through” parties!

What advice do you have for a young woman looking to enter the industry?

Be prepared to work the hours and have the commitment necessary to be successful. Always try to make yourself available to do whatever the team asks of you. Be able to work alone and in a group, and most importantly don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Emelina (Sara) Espejo
Electrician

What is your role at Atkinson?

I am the lead electrician on-site at the Gold Road Mine project in Oatman, Arizona. 

What is your favorite project you have ever worked on and why?

I’ve always enjoyed the fast pace and challenges that come with mining projects.

What is your proudest professional achievement?

Receiving my electrical certification. I worked extremely hard for it.

What advice do you have for a young woman looking to enter the industry?

Be sure to get proper training and as many certifications as you can!