Yonaida Brito, a civil engineering senior at Stevens Institute of Technology, vividly recalls the first time she set eyes on New York City’s iconic skyline, thinking to herself, “I want to build.”
Brito was just seven years old when she and her family immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic.
Flash-forward to today, Brito is working on an ultra-luxury hotel and condo conversion of the landmark Crown Building in Midtown Manhattan as part of her internship at Gilbane Building Company.
After graduation this May, the Elizabeth, New Jersey native will soon live out her dream as a fulltime project engineer for that company.
“In high school I knew I wanted to do something in design, architecture or construction, but I really didn’t know what was out there for me.”
Although she didn’t know enough about the building industry to have a specific career in mind, she decided, with the help of high school counselors, that a civil engineering degree would provide the best path toward reaching her goals.
She recalls her counselors gently advising her to go about selecting a college with an outcome in mind, cautioning her, “You can go to a college and have a great experience but not get a job afterward.”
That simply was not an option for Brito.
“My education had to lead to a career I wanted – that’s the whole point of going to college.”
While researching colleges and universities, she quickly discovered that the return on investment of a Stevens degree was consistently among the nation’s elite.
According to salary consultancy PayScale, a Stevens education was ranked one of the Top 10 Best Values in its 2017 College ROI Report. That recognition was reaffirmed most recently by the newly-released Class of 2017 Outcomes Report, which shows that 96 percent of graduates achieved their first destination outcomes within six months of graduation.
Along with Stevens' impressive statistics, Brito said she considered the university’s waterfront campus in Hoboken. Its convenient access to New York City would present choice employment opportunities and its compact size signaled a close-knit community, she thought.
“In my high school, classes were intimate. At Stevens, you have that kind of environment as well. Without a doubt, my Stevens education has been influenced by the professors who truly cared about what I was learning.”
Exploring careers and connecting with employers through co-ops
Tying education to a career path is why many Stevens undergraduates, such as Brito, choose to enroll in the school’s highly-regarded Co-op Program, which provides opportunities for students to gain real-world work experience while still in school.
Brito says her internship with and full-time offer from Gilbane was made possible thanks to an impressive resume of consulting, construction and design experiences, acquired from co-ops at some of the biggest names in the construction industry – HDR, AECOM Tishman and Skanska.
But it was at Turner Construction, she says, that she discovered her passion in construction management.
“I loved seeing the physical construction going on, and I really liked our role on the project which was managing the actual job. From there, I knew I wanted to do something in that area.”
Empowering women to take the lead
It was never lost on Brito that she was entering into a male-dominated industry. In some of her co-ops, she recalls feeling doubted by others, and eventually earning their respect.
“After the first month or so, people realized I wasn’t in the position just because I was contributing to their diversity efforts. I was there because I knew how to do the work and could do it extremely well.”
Being outnumbered is something she is used to, she says, especially as a woman engineer. It’s one of the reasons why she appreciates living at the Lore-El Center for Women in Leadership, a unique living and learning experience for a small group of undergraduate women at Stevens.
“It’s important to have a place where women can feel comfortable talking about what we go through as women, and have support programs and resources dedicated to women.”
At the Lore-El Center, Brito has served as a Resident Advisor for the past three years. It’s a role that has been central to her personal development, she says.
“The responsibilities that come with the role – the mentoring, designing programs, and being the person people go to for help – have really shaped my experience at Stevens.”
Embracing teamwork, looking ahead
In addition to being an RA, Brito has served on a number of undergraduate advisory boards, and is a member of the Gear and Triangle Honor Society, where she served as leadership chair, and the Society of Hispanic Engineers, where she served as public relations chair and vice president. She also played on the women’s basketball team in her first year. Being on that team, she says, helped her learn when to be a role player rather than the “star.”
“I learned how to keep my ego in check and be a team player, whatever my position was or how much playing time I was getting.”
The culture of teamwork is something that Stevens students are exposed to early on through collaborative experiences in design classes, she says.
“In those group projects, you have to find ways to have effective meetings and match responsibilities to people’s strengths. Those skills carry over into the workplace, especially in my field. In construction, it’s all a team effort.”
As Brito looks toward graduation, it’s clear she is eager for what’s next.
“What I came here to do I accomplished and more. I’m so ready to go out into the workplace. I feel like Stevens has really prepared me for that.”