Video Produced by Domonic Smith-Weston
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the island of Hispaniola, which comprises the countries of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
The initial shock of the quake was devastating, but the aftershocks in the days that followed were especially destructive for Haiti, which had not experienced an earthquake of such magnitude since the 18th century. The official government death toll was around 300,000 people. Hundreds of thousands survived but were displaced.
For a young Chimaelle Goureige, a first-generation U.S. citizen whose parents emigrated from the small Caribbean nation, the event was life-changing. Although fortunate not to have experienced the earthquake firsthand, Goureige still has family in Haiti. From that point forward, she said her life’s mission centered largely around finding a way to help.
“My dream was always to go back and help rebuild the country,” Goureige said.
Engineering a career in construction
Goureige was so focused on rebuilding Haiti that when it came time to choose a career path in college, she settled on construction.
“I always was hands-on as a child,” said Goureige, now a project engineer with The Walsh Group in Atlanta. “My dad would always take me with him to help him fix things. And then that really got me interested in building. So, when I went to school, I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to look into it,’ and I realized that construction was the way for me to go.”
Goureige graduated in 2019 from Kennesaw State University in Georgia with a degree in mechanical engineering. She had already started an estimating internship with The Walsh Group before graduating, and shortly thereafter was elevated to a project engineer intern before taking on her current role in May 2019.
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Today, Goureige is mostly on jobsites in the field, where she helps coordinate subcontractor contracts, administers pay applications and handles other communications to ensure that the project is running smoothly.
“There’s a lot of communication,” Goureige said. “Communicating with not just office staff, but guys in the field, and also your subcontractors, along with the owners to keep that connection going and ensuring that everyone’s on the same page.”
Inspiring young people
Goureige, still early in her construction career, said that younger people should seriously consider the profession. She said the reason young people in high school and college don’t initially have construction in mind when considering career options is because of a false perception that persists about the industry.
“Not everybody actually understands the full scope of what construction entails,” Goureige said. “They’re only seeing somebody wearing hard hats that are only shoveling and working in dirt and stuff like that. But there’s a lot more to the industry than that.”
Goureige said young people would be especially interested in the diversity of roles available in construction. Not all construction workers wear hard hats and build, she said. There are architects, engineers, designers and others who all play integral roles in making a construction project come to life.
“I feel there’s a miseducation in that sense of what construction completely entails and the different opportunities that it offers,” Goureige said.
“But I feel like if people are educated and the industry is more accurately brought to light, they will understand, ‘Oh, wow—this is actually a pretty cool industry!’ And they will become interested in it.”
Advocating for women in the industry
Goureige said she hasn’t completely fulfilled her dream of helping rebuild Haiti. Although she has been back to the country to visit family, she looks forward to continuing to evolve in her project engineer role and someday become a project manager. She also wants to spend more time in Haiti working for her uncle, who operates an engineering firm in the country.
Meantime, Goureige said she will also continue to advocate for more young people to join the industry, especially young women.
“I can speak for the young girls who are thinking about construction but feel discouraged,” Goureige said. “I want to let them know: Don’t let anybody dictate what you can and cannot do. Work hard, and even if you feel confused, it’s OK to ask questions. But don’t let anybody frown upon you as if you are less than them and that you cannot accomplish what you set out to accomplish—because you can do it.”