Road construction was not where Kawonna Dougherty had ever pictured herself working, especially while she was enjoying great success in retail floor covering as a salesperson and then a manager. But in July 2008, as the housing market was collapsing, Dougherty found herself laid off with no other prospects for employment in the industry she had worked in for 15 years.
Dougherty had previously taken courses in business administration at SIU and also had experience working in insurance prior to floor covering. But after getting laid off, she decided it was time to explore completely new career options through additional education, so she came to JJC.
She enrolled in a program called “Building Workers, Constructing Lives” (BWCL) through JJC’s Workforce Development program that prepared women and minorities to job opportunities in the trades, and found herself thoroughly enjoying classes on blueprint reading and surveying.
“I went back to what I was good at in high school,” Dougherty said. “I was good at math and I’ve always been a people person, and I realized I was able to put the two together in the construction field.”
After completing the one-semester BWCL program and taking some other JJC classes, Dougherty got a job with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), but still continued taking classes at JJC in order to complete a degree. She graduated in spring 2009 with an Associate in General Studies (AGS) degree and a Certificate of Completion (CCO) in construction preparation.
Dougherty credits several people at JJC with inspiring to her to pursue what was an unlikely career path for her. “Greg Pakieser, who helped me with scheduling classes, Maria Rafac, who taught my architect classes, Tim Bette, who taught my surveying class that led me to my IDOT job – they all took a personal interest in my success and helped me along the way.”
Now an engineering technician at IDOT, the busy wife and mother inspects road construction jobs from beginning to end, ensuring that roads are laid properly and that all rules and procedures are followed. She said she loves coming to her job every day, and enjoys the added bonus of working outdoors and staying active.
Dougherty also values the fact that she is a trailblazer in a field where women have historically been scarce.
“I am the only woman in my office, and there are probably about only five in all of Will County working in the field like I do. But I’m proud to see that the number of women is slowly growing, because truly, this field is probably one of the best-kept secrets out there for job opportunities for women. If you’re a woman who has any interest in how things are built, this is the field for you.”
Click here to learn more about the construction program at JJC.