Women at Work – Maya Wong: Trading a Backpack for a Hard Hat

By on March 8, 2019

Washington University women are rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done on the East End construction site in a variety of ways, from engineering to project managing to communications. Here’s another in a series spotlighting women students, staff and alumni who are contributing to the transformation.

This month, Maya Wong, one of Washington University in St. Louis’ newest alumni, stepped onto the job site of Jubel Hall on the East End site as a project engineer for McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. She had zero first-day jitters: She had been there before.

A December 2018 graduate of the McKelvey School of Engineering with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, Wong spent the previous summer and fall semester as a McCarthy intern, exchanging her backpack for a hard hat and construction vest and walking from the classroom to the construction site where she now works full-time.

“I’d leave around lunchtime, go to class and then turn around and come right back to the job,” she said. “It was pretty convenient.”

It was also an opportunity unmatched for Wong, a native of Sacramento, Calif. “It’s one thing seeing a mechanical concept on paper or reading about in a textbook,” she said, “but you understand it 10 times better when you experience how all these different components come together to actually make a building work.”

Like many high school students, Wong had no idea what she wanted to study in college — or even if college was in the cards for her. But she liked math and physics classes and on a whim applied to and was accepted in the pre-engineering program of St. Mary’s College of California as a first-generation college student. The school afforded her the opportunity and time to figure out exactly what area she wanted to study: A liberal arts background to go along with those math and science classes.

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