Five years ago, Anayeli Martinez Real was a senior graduating from high school with few ideas on what to do with her life. This spring she completes her degree in construction engineering with UNL’s Durham School, balancing a full course load while interning with Kiewit Corp., for more than 20 hours per week. She also leads Omaha’s student chapter of Associated General Contractors of America, as well as a start-up local chapter of Mexican American Engineers & Scientists / Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.
Her mother always encouraged her to “do something with your life, so you can give your children more than I gave you.” A single parent, Martinez Real’s mother completed a primary school education in Mexico, then moved to the United States. The young Martinez Real spent her early childhood in California, then moved with her mother and older brother to Omaha.
Martinez Real cited job shadow experiences with female construction engineers as the main influences in her decision to study construction engineering, but in the background for the past six years was her mother’s bit-by-bit remodeling of the family’s Omaha home, the first they owned.
Her mother worked multiple jobs yet stayed on top of the home renovation work. “She taught me that if you can imagine your dream, you can build and achieve it.” The challenge is to not let setbacks halt progress, Martinez Real said, and to look for the blessings of people put in the path.
For example, in the summer when Martinez Real was accepted and registered for classes at The Peter Kiewit Institute, she went to the college bookstore to buy her texts. She was shocked by the expense beyond her planned budget, and thought she wouldn’t be able to take classes. But when she left the bookstore, a past mentor introduced Martinez Real to Mel Clancy, director of Project Achieve, a program for first-generation college students. That was like “meeting an angel,” Martinez Real said, because her case was reviewed that day and a check was written that funded her textbook needs.
As a student, Martinez Real began working for Alma Ramirez-Rodgers, who recruits prospective students into UNL College of Engineering programs at the Omaha campus. Thriving in her studies, Martinez Real learned of opportunities to study abroad. A program in Spain offered relevant course work and she spent a year gaining new perspective on the Hispanic culture of another continent.
When representatives of the student AGC group spoke in one of her introductory construction classes, Martinez Real changed from “the shy one” to the person who later led the group’s growth, doubling its participation from 25 to 50 members, and setting an active schedule of learning experiences and volunteer opportunities connecting students with AGC professional chapter members.
Martinez Real also found time to be an intern with Kiewit Building Group: a long-term and valuable commitment that advances students through field engineering, office engineering, post construction and estimating areas. She is thrilled that in October 2010, Kiewit offered her a job following graduation.
She acknowledges her story is remarkable and that it’s just beginning. From a girl who barely knew what a beam was, Martinez Real is on her way to being a confident professional and industry leader who can help transform a property’s blank slate with multi-faceted structures that bring commerce to the community..
– Carole Wilbeck