Empowering future construction industry leaders through equity

Alumni Sissel

Photos by Johanna Carson

To increase opportunities for engineering students planning to join the construction industry, the College of Engineering joined forces in 2021 with the OSU Foundation, the Construction Education Foundation, key donors, and construction industry advocates to create the Construction Industry Empowerment Scholarship Program. The program provides a three-year, $30,000 commitment to fund high-achieving, first-generation engineering students committed to joining the construction industry and who face significant financial need, starting in their second year.

Portrait of Tim Sissel
Tim Sissel, president of Fortis Construction in

“In the construction industry, one thing we’re trying to solve is how to grow diversity in our companies,” said Tim Sissel, president of Fortis Construction in Portland. “How do we change demographics of those not only in the office, but also the field? We have a responsibility. A way to fulfill it is to grow the student pool coming out of higher education interested in the industry.”

Sissel, who is also president of the CEF board, said the inspiration for the CIE program came from the college’s Catalyst Scholars Program, launched in 2020. As many students confront barriers in higher education, they often forge nontraditional pathways to graduation — deferring enrollment by a year or more after high school or attending part-time while working to support themselves.

Nontraditional students make up about 30% of the college’s enrollment in the construction disciplines, with around 80% of these students coming from populations underrepresented in higher education. Sissel saw an opportunity to promote equity.

“I pitched the idea to the CEF because one of our main focus areas is diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Sissel said. “We’re passionate about Oregon State’s civil engineering and construction engineering management students. We represent companies who want a win for students and a win for industry through increasing diversity in the construction space.”

Among these companies is Lease Crutcher Lewis, whose senior project manager, Lauren Holmes, B.S., construction engineering management ’05, joined the CEF board in 2021. When Holmes learned about the CIE scholarship program, she was eager for her organization to become involved, especially given its long history of recruiting Oregon State engineering students.

“We’re always looking to mentor students directly,” Holmes said. “This scholarship allows us to support students, providing them with internships and career development that enhance their opportunities to excel in our industry.”

Portrait of Britten Johnson
Britten Johnson, a second-year civil engineering
student and CIE scholarship recipient, wants to design
structures that are resistant to natural disasters.

Now in its second year, the CIE scholarship program has an inaugural cohort of seven scholars supported by four donors: Fortis Construction, Lease Crutcher Lewis, Kiewit Corporation, and Knife River. The aim is to grow these numbers annually, starting with a goal of eight students for 2023-24. Of the $10,000 scholars receive each academic year, $8,000 helps fund tuition and fees, while the remaining $2,000 supports experiential opportunities, including internships and conferences.

One CIE scholar taking advantage of such opportunities is Britten Johnson, a second-year student in civil engineering.

“I’ve always enjoyed math and science,” Johnson said. “In eighth grade, we did different engineering activities and built tsunami-resistant structures and tested them at the wave lab. We also made wind turbines and solar cars. I fell in love with it all and realized engineering was the route to take, and Oregon State has one of the best engineering programs.”

Financially on her own for college, Johnson was diligent in applying for scholarships during her first year at Lane Community College to help pay for her education as she prepared to transfer to Oregon State. She was elated when she found out she would be a CIE scholar and has since been setting a course for a successful undergraduate experience. Johnson encourages incoming civil and construction engineering students to apply for as many scholarships as possible and to engage in a variety of engineering classes, clubs, and hands-on learning activities.

“This summer, I plan on using my CIE experiential funds to pay for housing during my internship as a project engineer at Perlo in Portland,” she said. “I’m excited to learn the ropes and get a feel for the construction world environment. Going from there, I like the idea of making more natural disaster-resistant structures; I want this to be a focus of my career.”

March 28, 2023