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When I was growing up in Kenya, I was always fascinated by how things get built. Whether it was a simple household item or a grand new office complex, the idea of putting all the pieces together — of bringing them to life — offered this unique sense of wonder and excitement. It’s about solving a problem, finding a solution, creating a new path forward.

Studying to earn my degree in civil engineering at NYU Abu Dhabi, one of the most diverse institutions in the world with individuals from over 65 different countries, pushed my fascination with the built environment further. Here, I learned about the physical building blocks of the structures I found captivating when I was younger. I also came to understand that structures come to life when the professionals that construct them and the communities that inhabit them are strengthened and given space to flourish. I learned that a key source of such strength came from diversity and the ability to access and share differing perspectives. Thus, while doing projects that ranged from a crucial water and sanitation project in the Makindu District in Kenya to sustainable construction in Abu Dhabi, I kept seeking out opportunities across the globe that exposed me to new ways of thinking and doing things.

I found such an opportunity when I moved to New York, the epicenter of diversity, and began working at Suffolk Construction where I work as a project manager and use some of the world’s most advanced technology to build the future of the city I now call home.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that America will need to add one million more STEM professionals by 2022 to meet the needs of the future of work. Still, with rapid growth of job openings for STEM-literate employees and the higher levels of education backgrounds, African Americans are the racial group who are less likely to enter these fields. With this demographic severely underrepresented in a prosperous industry, it is critical to offer our communities the encouragement and resources needed to succeed in STEM.

At a time when more of these STEM opportunities are needed for young men and women of color who dream of building the future, my job at Suffolk has become especially important. I’m now leading our team’s efforts to construct the new Union Square Tech Training Center, which was conceived by NYCEDC and the de Blasio administration and which will be managed by RAL Development Services.

It’s this kind of project that goes to the heart of what makes my work so special, since it really tells two stories: one about the incredible structure we are building and another about the opportunities this building will help create for immigrant populations and all communities of color throughout New York City.

With regard to the construction work itself, the Tech Training Center is benefiting from innovative tools and operational strategies that make Suffolk such an industry leader. For example, my role on the project includes implementing and overseeing Suffolk’s Plan and Control program, which brings together stakeholders at the start of the process to establish project expectations and collaborate on the design. We focus on building the model by pulling together trade partners to work with the builders, architects and owners. This process maximizes efficiency by ensuring that we remain aligned throughout all phases of construction.

When it comes to the future, I take real pride in knowing that the Tech Training Center, once it’s complete, will create a multi-level ecosystem to grow the next generation of companies, industries and tech workers. This will include a partnership with the non-profit Civic Hall, which will operate a digital skills training center that’s focused on inspiring young people and advancing workforce opportunities for racial and ethnic groups that are still underrepresented in New York City’s fast-growing tech sector.

For me, it all goes back to those dreams I had as a boy in Kenya whenever I would see something that made me wonder how it got built and the creative ideas that went into it. It all goes back to my college days and upbringing where the diversity that surrounded me inspired me to help in construction of spaces that help communities flourish. With every step I take alongside the Suffolk team to turn architectural vision into reality, the journey for knowledge and new experiences continues. And it just becomes that much sweeter when I know that projects like the Union Square Tech Training Center will open doors for other boys and girls who share those dreams and simply need their own opportunity to flourish.


Joseph Juma is a Project Manager for Suffolk Construction in New York City. He is currently working on the Union Square Tech Training Center project.