When it comes to addressing diversity, equity and economic inclusion in the construction industry, small-scale change through meaningful corporate support can make a big difference in individuals' lives.
"It's all about finding opportunities that eliminate barriers and then executing on those plans," said Stanford T. Williams, vice president and chief inclusion and diversity officer at Messer Construction Co. "The culmination of small acts can create a bigger opportunity to make a change.
"We've all been impacted by individuals who went out of their way to help us become successful," Williams added. "Giving back should be part of who we are."
Here are two examples of how Messer is advancing this ideal.
High School Summer Course
This summer, Messer collaborated with Schaefer and the University of Cincinnati's (UC) College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) to close the gap in STEM class availability at six Cincinnati Public Schools(CPS).
Messer has a deep connection with UC, and through that relationship learned in February 2020 that some CPS high school students could not take chemistry and physics courses because they weren’t offered at their school. This would have been a barrier for them to apply to UC's engineering program, where having one of these courses is a prerequisite.
The solution was swift and simple: UC created a curriculum and asked local businesses—Messer and Schaefer—to fund the effort. CEAS hired a CPS instructor from Winton Woods High School to teach the course.
By June 1, 11 students were enrolled and kicking off their virtual coursework, Monday through Friday for four hours through mid-July.
"Most of the students have an interest in STEM, and know they need this class to make them more attractive to colleges," Williams said. "They're working on their own time and trying to get ahead."
All 11 students completed the class and can apply their certificate to their transcript. At the virtual graduation held in mid-July, many students expressed the positive experience they had:
- "I could tell on the first day of class that I was going to enjoy it. I liked the energy that everyone had." – Jamari
- “I was not exactly feeling like going ‘Stephen Hawking level’ this summer, but I enjoyed myself. The class was excellent.” – Alex
- “Thank you for believing that we are smart enough and committed enough to do this class over the summer. Now I am thinking of going into the STEM field, where before I was not even sure of what I wanted to do with my life.” – Natalia
The experience was equally meaningful for Don Wittrock, program coordinator in UC’s Office of Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement. “This course has been the highlight of my summer,” he told the students during the virtual graduation. “In the beginning, I said that this class is going to be what you make it. You put in 100% and even more. Thank you for jumping in with both feet.”
Added Brad Ciminowasielewski, who taught the class: “You were excited and hungry to learn. Your dedication and commitment are already there, so keep on working at it!”
The program is expected to be offered again in the coming schoolyear, and may alternate between physics and chemistry courses.
Support is also valuable as diverse students transition from high school to college.
Messer has committed nearly half a million dollars in scholarships to schools in Ohio and Kentucky to support diverse and female students interested in pursuing careers in construction. Participating institutions include the University of Cincinnati, University of Louisville, University of Dayton and University of Kentucky—plus Berea College and Xavier University scholarships will become available in the fall of 2021. Messer funds the scholarships and the schools select the recipients.
Deressa Prater, now a project manager in Messer's Charlotte region, received the Donn E. Hancher scholarship sponsored by Messer while earning her civil engineering degree at the University of Kentucky. "This scholarship helped open the door to my career inside the general contracting industry and my passion to build," Prater said.
It's a win-win-win for the students, universities and Messer, which establishes diverse hiring goals every year (20% of new hires for 2020). The interaction doesn't stop with the scholarship. Messer often counsels the students through co-ops and other engagement opportunities to help them evaluate a potential construction career.
“This puts students in a better position to assess their career options and ideally consider Messer as an employer," Williams said. "Most business gets done through relationships, trust and execution. We have an intentional strategy to recruit more diverse people to the company, and filling the gap with scholarships is just one way to serve the greater good.”