Dr. Heather Brown

Director and Professor at the School of Concrete and Construction Management at Middle Tennessee State University

Dr. Heather Brown is Director and Professor at the School of Concrete and Construction Management at Middle Tennessee State University. Dr. Brown has quickly earned a leadership role in a typically male-dominated field at one of the leading schools in construction.  I guess you could say Dr. Brown is in the fast lane since she has recently been selected by the Indycar Series to help ready the Music City Grand Prix course with concrete barrier walls and a pit lane for the 25 race cars for the August 2021 race.

What should we know about Dr. Brown?

Dr. Brown grew up your typical tomboy of the 80’s playing with Star Wars, Legos, Transformers, Atari, building forts, riding bikes and playing sports. She grew up with no thought about not being equal to boys. She took a test in 9th grade that was to help inform your career path and it told her Civil Engineering so she believed it and declared it in college. It was a perfect fit and she found concrete and construction as a part of the field that fascinated her the most because of all the choices of construction materials. It was like her childhood fort building dreams come true. The amount of math and science that I get to do is very rewarding because it all seems so practical and useful.

Why is construction management a good career choice for women? Are there glass ceilings in the industry?

Construction is never, ever going away. Even in the worst of times we will always be building, re-building, upgrading, retrofitting and repairing. Women need to be a part of this ever-evolving field because it overlaps so many other industries. Construction was deemed essential during Covid due to the nature of what it affects – schools, hospitals, housing – basic necessities can’t function without properly constructed buildings, roads and bridges. Dr. Brown doesn’t see a glass ceiling in construction due to the fact that the industry is so starved for females that any female that can rise the ranks through hard work and results deserves a spot at the top. The lack of women at the top has not been due to a glass ceiling but simply a numbers game. When only 9% of all positions in construction are populated by women then there isn’t enough supply to meet the demand of female leaders. MTSU is hoping to help change the supply part of the equation.

Are there attributes that women bring to the field that are needed?

The skills women naturally bring to the table with organization, people skills, multi-tasking, peace-making, attention to detail…all work in the construction industry. This industry is still driven by relationships. Women are team focused and don’t mind doing the gritty background work to get results. Of course, women have to be mindful that they don’t always stay in the shadows and claim recognition when they can.

How are women recruited for the College?

Staff members at the college start recruiting early by getting involved with 3-5th grad STEM programs, middle school science and technology classes, and high school architecture, construction, engineering classes to share the good news about what construction can do for any young person. Specifically, Dr. Brown volunteers at a few statewide efforts like Expanding your Horizons, Art to STEM, TN Girls Collaborative Project and locally Club MARVEL. However, women typically don’t choose Concrete and Construction Management early, so they target Nursing, Education, Agriculture and Business majors that might be having a change of heart. Nursing and Education are chosen because these young women clearly want to help people and believe it or not, you are helping people every day in construction. Agriculture majors like to be outside, work with their hands, and don’t mind a little dirt on their boots. Lastly, Business majors already have their eye on marketing, sales, management so why not share an industry that they can do all of those things. The College also requires a minor in Business so that helps the transition over.

What qualities are important in the decision-making process when marketing to female consumers in the field – from women who are project managers, architects, etc. on commercial projects – to residential home builders or home buyers?

Marketing to women who are either thinking about a career in construction or women who are already in decision making roles with companies or even buying a home is very tough because women are complex people. Dr. Brown says she doesn’t want to be marketed to with pink hard hats and frilly slogans. However, there are campaigns like this that help to attract a diverse base of females. The marketing has to focus on the skills women have, the projects they get to work on, the energy that is created on a jobsite, the clients they serve. Pride of workmanship is not just a male trait – women want to see the fruits of their labor and construction is a perfect place to get that. Showcasing how a woman can be valuable on a construction site moving from office to meetings to the field and then showing them transitioning to home life possibly raising a family, dating, gathering with friends shows how dynamic and rewarding this life is. Dr. Brown still drives her kids past projects she has contributed to and tell stories about the construction.

The inaugural Music City Grand Prix will bring Indy car racing to the actual streets of Nashville in 2020 and be the first professional race to cross a body of water when it passes over the Cumberland River into downtown Nashville. Tell us about the contributions of the College staff and students to the track barriers and the importance of what is being done.

The College is assisting the precast concrete company, Jarrett Concrete, with optimizing the concrete mix strength, weight, durability, cost and environmental impact. Currently Jarrett Concrete was using 100% cement in all their concrete products and the team is assisting them in providing data to help them transition to cement replacement powders like fly ash and slag. This will ultimately provide improvements in all areas. They will also consult on pavement repairs that will be happening around Nissan Stadium in preparation for the racetrack and be involved with construction of pit lane. It’s a very exciting project and MTSU students will continue to be involved through internships and research.

Resources and Links

Dr. Heather Brown at MTSU https://www.mtsu.edu/faculty/heather-brown

Dr. Heather Brown LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/hjbrown/

MTSU School of Concrete and Construction Management