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Women in Construction: Interview with Kate Farewell

Kate Farewell, P.E. is a licensed professional engineer and accomplished, collaborative leader with more than two decades of experience directing capital programs for prestigious institutions in NYC and throughout the Northeast.  Her experience encompasses a full complement of project types from utility infrastructure and landscape master planning to historic preservation and new construction.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in getting to where you are?
Not surprisingly, the challenge is work/life balance.  My personal relationships enabled me to work long hours through my 20’s, which i’m sure contributed to some of the accomplishments early in my career.  However, over the years, I’ve realized that the question we ask ourselves – later in life – is, what will you remember when you look back? – and it’s hard to imagine thinking of working more.  With that said, I still have to make a conscious effort to switch gears – because it also happens that I love what I do, and have been lucky enough to find many lasting friendships through work.

What advice would you have for other women pursuing a career in this industry?
If possible, diversify any technical curriculum with some of the softer skills (i.e. public speaking, technical writing).  So much of this career path is about communication – especially when distinguishing oneself.

What resources helped you out the most – a mentor, education, hands-on experience?
My career thus far has been influenced by a great foundation – parents that believe that you must love what you do – an excellent education, where my civil engineering class in the late 90’s was 40% women; wonderful mentors, whom I still think of when considering how to navigate certain conversations; and the luck of being in the right place at the right time in terms of opportunities to lead at a young age.

Why did you choose a career in construction?
I chose a college based on liking its campus – and was lucky to discover, once there, that it offered the perfect blend of liberal arts and engineering. This led to a degree in civil engineering – and after one long year as an entry level engineer, the need to be in a more dynamic environment.  I often share that my manager, when I told him I was moving on, said that “if you wait 7-10 years, you can manage a project.”  My best friend from college was with a consulting firm that was managing capital projects at a nearby college – and the rest is history.  Owner’s project management was the perfect fit for me, as at its core – in my opinion – success is based on communication.

What impact do you hope to leave on the industry? Do you feel like you’ve paved the path for other women?  How do you inspire them?
I mainly feel that those that came before me paved the path – as I have always felt welcomed in professional settings.  The impact that I hope to leave is respect from the many clients over the years, many of whom I still keep in touch with even though the building projects are long complete – and also from colleagues.  I’m hopeful that I inspire the people that I work with through a combination of direct project collaboration – working hard and being aware of each person’s needs and perspectives – mentorship and in some cases, friendship.

What is your favorite part of your career?
I’m driven by solving problems – and meeting new people.  Luckily, this is the essence of project management.  I also love seeing a project through from concept to completion – especially when I have the opportunity to use the new space – as is sometimes the case with campus projects.

What has been the most surprising part of being a woman working in construction/real estate?
Over the past two decades, more and more women are at the table.  One of the reasons that I chose Zubatkin was that more than half of the team is comprised of women.

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