Southeast Ukrainian Student Nails Bright Future in Construction Management

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“Construction is no longer about hammers and nails. It is about leadership, problem-solving and the ability to learn.”

That’s according to Southeast Missouri State University construction management and design major and Ukrainian student Alona Ivchenko who will graduate from Southeast May 11.

Four years ago, she traveled to Southeast from around the globe to carve out a college education that will soon catapult her into a career in Bismarck, North Dakota. There, she will begin work with Bilfinger Westcon, a firm that recognized her potential in the industry before she even recognized it in herself.

It’s an extraordinary accomplishment for a student who is more than 5,400 miles from home, whose primary language is Ukrainian and who has chosen a career path in a largely male-dominated field.

“I think being a female in the construction industry is a benefit because the level of respect you receive is unmeasurable. Construction companies want to hire females,” Alona said. “You need to be determined and willing to learn.”

Kevin McMeel, instructor in the Department of Engineering and Technology, says enrollment in Southeast’s construction management program has historically been about 10 percent female, which he says “is pretty representative of the construction industry – both management and tradespeople.”

He says Alona has what it takes to succeed in the field.

“Aside from always coming to class and always doing the work, she never hesitates to ask question,” he said. “She is very courteous, ambitious, and just a nice person to be around. I’m sure she will succeed no matter where life takes her.”

Alona is looking forward to commencement festivities and to her mother traveling to Cape Girardeau from Ukraine to witness her completion of a Bachelor of Science in technology management, construction management and design major. While Alona says her mother does not speak much English, joy is universal.

Alona Ivchenko will be joining Bilfinger Westcon in Bismarck, North Dakota.

In early June, Alona will head to Bismarck to join Bilfinger Westcon, a full-service industrial general contractor serving the oil, gas, refining, chemical, power, mining, agriculture, food and renewable resources industries. Bilfinger Westcon has built a reputation for delivering successful projects under adverse conditions, with one of their primary specialties being constructing in cold weather.

“I met Bilfinger Westcon staff at the career fair at the Associated Schools of Construction Competition two years in a row” said Alona, who attended the competition along with other Southeast construction management majors.

She was a member of a Southeast team that competed the last two fall semesters. During the competitions, actual construction companies propose and judge problems. The teams also make a presentation to the judges. On the last day, there is a “Leadership Breakfast,” a mini-career fair with the sponsoring companies and other contractors coming to watch, McMeel said. They see the students in action and then have time to meet with them afterwards.

“They can tell who has the confidence and knowledge-base during those times,” McMeel said.

Preparing for the competition requires the same work as preparing to bid a construction project.

“So, they are ‘walking the walk’ not just ‘talking the talk,’ McMeel said. “During the presentation, it was obvious that Alona’s confidence showed through.”

Alona said she had heard positive feedback about the company from other Southeast students who have interned with Bilfinger and from a Southeast graduate employed by the company.

She has accepted a position as an estimator, which she says is a good fit as she starts her career.

“An estimator figures out the price of the project based on the plans provided,” she said.

Alona Ivchenko loved math and physics as a high school student but found her niche at Southeast in construction management.

She’s come a long way since joining Southeast from Cherkassy in the central part of Ukraine. There, her high school class concentrated its studies on mathematics and physics. After her high school graduation, an educational agency guided her to advance her studies at Southeast, where she eventually chose construction management as a major.

“I chose construction management because it involves math and physics,” Alona said. “I decided to give it a try, and I absolutely loved it.”

She has worked hard to achieve a 3.97 grade point average and has participated in student competitions where she has made connections with field professionals.

A hard-working young woman, Alona is already thinking about how she can grow and advance in the field with hopes of one day becoming a director. She does not shy away from the opportunities that lie ahead.

“I see myself at a higher position in five years. I know I am capable of managing a big staff and making life-changing decisions. I am not scared of responsibility. I just want to see my career grow,” she said.

Alona plans to work in the United States for the time being but is open to potentially taking her management and design skills back to Ukraine.

“My career allows me to work anywhere in the world. However, I definitely want to get work experience in the States first,” she said.

No matter where her career takes her, Alona says she feels she will be ready for whatever comes her way. Southeast’s construction management and design program gave her the knowledge necessary for post-graduation success.

“The construction management faculty members help their students find internships and jobs. They do a lot to help their students stand out from graduates from other schools. I couldn’t have learned and done many things without Kevin McMeel, Bryan Bowers, Belinda McMurry, John Dudley and Jim Peterson,” she said.

McMeel says Alona has a bright future.

“Alona has a strong self-confidence which makes others follow her and listen to her,” he said. “She is always willing to learn, but more importantly, is willing to put in the effort to learn until she understands. I think she is determined to succeed and doesn’t really seem to care whether it is a male-dominated industry or that she is half a world away from home.”

More than anything, Alona has the will to do.

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