NDSU Sophomore Inspires Young Women in STEM Careers

Rachel Airhart, a 19-year-old civil engineering major at North Dakota State University (NDSU), is using her on-the-job experience with Mortenson Construction to challenge young women to join STEM careers.

Now an NDSU sophomore, Airhart began her internship with Mortenson’s North Dakota office at the end of her freshman year. She immediately started working on the $494-million Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, North Dakota. There she helped manage exterior site work and the coordination of trade partners to close out the project. Currently she is engaged on the West Fargo Hockey Arena, making certain all submittals – from bleachers to concrete – are as specified in the contracting process.

When asked if she had any advice for young women contemplating their futures, she said: “My advice is to get out on the job sites and learn as much as you can. The real world is completely different. It may be intimidating because there are so many men in construction, but don’t be intimidated. You can achieve far beyond what you can imagine.”

Airhart is also helping to introduce engineering to young females. As part of the NDSU Tech Girls Program she is taking her message to third through fifth graders. The weekly program brings female elementary students to the NDSU campus to meet with college women like Airhart and introduce them to STEM careers at an early age.

“We are delighted to have Rachel working with us as an intern at Mortenson,” said Rob Riness, senior project manager for Mortenson in North Dakota. “Her energy is contagious. It’s motivating for all of us to witness the skills and talents she brings to the jobsite.” 

Airhart credits her interest in civil engineering and career in STEM with two factors: 1) She’s a twin. “As a twin I am very competitive; it pushes me to achieve things I didn’t think were possible.” And 2) In high school, Airhart participated in Project Lead the Way, a Minnesota program that introduces engineering into schools. Milaca High School offered three engineering-related classes and that’s when she discovered that “civil engineering is for me.”

In May, Airhart is headed to Havelock, North Carolina in for a 12-week internship with Mortenson, helping to build an unmanned aircraft system facilities expansion at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point.