Bridging Construction’s Gender Gap

Hartford High Graduate Is the Lone Woman Working on I-91 Bridge

  • Sarah Rosenzweig, 20, of Windsor, Vt. arranges a set of chains to lift a concrete form at the I-91 bridge construction site in Windsor, Vt., Thursday, August 7, 2014. Rosenzweig, a civil engineering student at Vermont Technical College, recently completed on the job training with Lane Construction at the bridge site and will continue the job until the bridge is complete before continuing her studies in the spring.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Sarah Rosenzweig, 20, of Windsor, Vt. arranges a set of chains to lift a concrete form at the I-91 bridge construction site in Windsor, Vt., Thursday, August 7, 2014. Rosenzweig, a civil engineering student at Vermont Technical College, recently completed on the job training with Lane Construction at the bridge site and will continue the job until the bridge is complete before continuing her studies in the spring.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sarah Rosenzweig, 20, of Windsor, Vt. moves and cleans concrete forms used to create the columns of the I-91 bridge over Route 44 in Windsor, Vt. Thursday, August 7, 2014. Rosenzweig hopes her experience working for Lane Construction will lend her insight into her civil engineering studies at Vermont Technical College.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Sarah Rosenzweig, 20, of Windsor, Vt. moves and cleans concrete forms used to create the columns of the I-91 bridge over Route 44 in Windsor, Vt. Thursday, August 7, 2014. Rosenzweig hopes her experience working for Lane Construction will lend her insight into her civil engineering studies at Vermont Technical College.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Richard Desmarais of Greenfield, Mass., talks with Sarah Rosenzweig, 20, of Windsor, Vt. at the site of bridge construction over Route 44 in Windsor, Vt., Thursday, August 7, 2014. Rosenzweig is a civil engineering student at Vermont Technical College,<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Richard Desmarais of Greenfield, Mass., talks with Sarah Rosenzweig, 20, of Windsor, Vt. at the site of bridge construction over Route 44 in Windsor, Vt., Thursday, August 7, 2014. Rosenzweig is a civil engineering student at Vermont Technical College,
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sarah Rosenzweig, 20, of Windsor, Vt. arranges a set of chains to lift a concrete form at the I-91 bridge construction site in Windsor, Vt., Thursday, August 7, 2014. Rosenzweig, a civil engineering student at Vermont Technical College, recently completed on the job training with Lane Construction at the bridge site and will continue the job until the bridge is complete before continuing her studies in the spring.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Sarah Rosenzweig, 20, of Windsor, Vt. moves and cleans concrete forms used to create the columns of the I-91 bridge over Route 44 in Windsor, Vt. Thursday, August 7, 2014. Rosenzweig hopes her experience working for Lane Construction will lend her insight into her civil engineering studies at Vermont Technical College.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Richard Desmarais of Greenfield, Mass., talks with Sarah Rosenzweig, 20, of Windsor, Vt. at the site of bridge construction over Route 44 in Windsor, Vt., Thursday, August 7, 2014. Rosenzweig is a civil engineering student at Vermont Technical College,<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Windsor — Somewhere around age 9 or 10, Sarah Rosenzweig stopped asking her parents “Are we there yet?” and started wondering what on earth was holding up those bridges along the Merritt Parkway between their home in Connecticut and Grandma’s house in the Bronx.

“The bridges are stunning,” Rosenzweig said this week. “I couldn’t get enough of them. My family made jokes about me going into civil engineering someday.”

Now 20, and between her first and second years of civil-engineering studies at Vermont Technical College in Randolph, Rosenzweig is spending five months dangling in safety harnesses from four-story-high supports, carrying building materials weighing half her 104 pounds and otherwise learning the ropes of bridge construction on and around the span that carries the northbound lanes of Interstate 91 across Route 44 and Mill Brook.

“It’s been fun,” the Hartford High graduate said. “It’s a little bit of everything. I’ve had to do flagging, carpentry, nails, form work, concrete work, you name it. I learn something new every day.”

Rosenzweig learned fast enough during her on-the-job training in May and June that Lane Construction hired her full-time in July for the rest of the reconstruction project, scheduled to run through Oct. 15.

“She’s done very well,” project manager Jamie White said. “What surprised me is that she stuck with it. It’s not a job to be taken lightly. We don’t stop for the weather, we deal with it.”

Other than a desk worker in the Lane Construction office trailer below the bridge, Rosenzweig is the only woman on the Windsor site this summer, out of 40 Lane employees and about 15 subcontract workers, White estimated. The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTRANS) recommended Rosenzweig to White last spring, after interviewing women who had applied for state-funded road-construction work around Vermont.

“She was looking for a hands-on, ground-level view of what construction looks like,” said Melanie Bangoura, manager of VTRANS’ Civil Rights Program. “It’s not that common for women and minorities to get directly hired in the industry, but with her interest and enthusiasm, Sarah was a good candidate.”

Long before Rosenzweig started noticing the bridges, her mother knew that Sarah was destined for a physical trade.

Anything she does, she puts her heart and soul into it,” said Suzy Rosenzweig, who with husband Burt runs the Frozen Memories ice cream shop in Quechee. “Sarah completely dressed herself a little over 1 year old. She has a sister who is 10 months older, and Sarah taught her how to tie her sneakers at 3 years old.

“Sarah has always been interested in how things work, and would always ask questions until she understood. She is 20 years old and building her own three-bedroom green home.”

All this from someone who in junior high and the first couple of years of high school in Connecticut took wood shop with a class full of boys. During her year at Hartford High, she was one of three girls taking such classes.

“I wasn’t afraid to be the only girl,” she said. “Women should definitely do construction and shouldn’t be afraid. It is basically a man’s line of work right now, but we can change that.”

VTRANS encourages women to apply for training through the Employment Diversity in Highway Construction (EDHC) Program, which requires contractors who do federally-funded highway and bridge projects to provide positions for women and minorities. This construction season, 12 women are training on highway and bridge projects statewide, Bangoura said, and VTrans is trying to fill 34 openings .

“Over the past few decades,” Lori Valburn, the agency’s chief of civil rights and labor compliance, added, “it’s been the gateway for hundreds of women and minorites to enter and advance in the industry.”

Rosenzweig hopes to follow that route.

“It’s more hands-on learning, so I’ll know what I’m getting into,” she said. “When I go back to the classroom, I’ll know what the teacher is talking about, more than the average student.”

Maybe most of all, she’s learning how to get along with a broad spectrum of workers, from the trenches to the heights.

“Everyone becomes so close,” Rosenzweig said. “You’re with these people more than your family. You’re one big family.”

Some of her on-site relatives wondered at first how much Rosenzweig could do — until she helped a colleague lift one of those hefty pads for balancing cranes.

“A lot of guys were like, ‘Well, a girl can’t do it,’ ” she recalled. “When I did, my foreman was screaming, ‘Sarah has muscles!’ ”

Muscles, and ambitions, after college, to span rivers and bays and highways and valleys around the country, maybe the world.

“When I go by bridges, I can’t help it. I have to look,” Rosenzweig said. “Like the (Leonard Zakim Bridge) going through Boston. The architecture just amazes me. That’s my game plan in life.“

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.