Discrimination based on gender and ethnicity is not unusual on construction sites – something civil engineering major Briana Santa Ana unfortunately witnessed first-hand during a summer internship.
But rather than brush it off, she decided to do something about it. Santa Ana worked with Senior Instructor Matt Morris to plan and launch the first Colorado Construction Diversity Summit, inviting construction company CEOs, presidents and vice presidents to campus for a daylong discussion on diversity and inclusion in the industry.
In recognition of her efforts, Santa Ana has been named an Outstanding Undergraduate for Service by the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
Before it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the diversity summit was nearly fully booked, and Colorado construction companies had donated thousands of dollars to support the event.
“My favorite memory has to be seeing my challenges in life inspire others to create a better environment for all,” Santa Ana said. “I began the discussion surrounding the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion in the construction industry with (Morris), who has always been an amazing support system for me. With his help, I was able to see individuals from all over the university and country come together to help create a successful diversity summit on CU Boulder's campus.”
Morris said he is incredibly proud of Santa Ana’s “grit.”
“Briana is changing lives for the better,” Morris said. “Her idea and subsequent execution of this plan is providing the education opportunity, communication skills and empathy-building we need in the construction industry. This message will spread and inspire people.”
Associate Professor Amy Javernick-Will, who mentored Santa Ana on her career trajectory, agreed that event like this will have far-reaching impacts.
“Briana’s efforts can have a tremendous positive impact on an industry that has traditionally not recognized the importance of diversity and inclusion, making it a more welcoming place for our increasingly diverse students,” Javernick-Will said. “This has ripple effects, as welcoming environments will increase career longevity and progression of diverse employees, who will transcend into leadership roles and further propagate change.”
During her time at CU Boulder, Santa Ana was also a GoldShirt Program Scholar, a member of the Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers and the Delta Delta Delta women's fraternity, and a peer mentor through the BOLD Center. She was also involved in undergraduate research, co-authoring a journal article on “Ferric-Stabilization of calcium-Free Alkali Activated Cements Exposed to Sulfuric Acid” that is in preparation for publication.
BOLD Director Tanya Ennis will remember Santa Ana as a constant advocate for equitable treatment of all people.
“Briana courageously spoke up when a peer student stereotyped certain groups of people and engineering majors, which in turn, had that person reconsider their statements,” Ennis said. “I am grateful that Briana is steadfast and passionate about her work as a civil engineer and a servant to others.”
After graduation, Santa Ana will take that passion into the field, where she’ll be joining general contractor Fransen Pittman as a project engineer.
She encourages students to give back to their community by actively participating in organizations like scholarship programs.
“Be willing to show someone the small tricks that have helped you land the opportunity that got you to where you are today,” Santa Ana said. “Remember that you never truly made it by yourself.”