The moment two men wearing hard hats and carrying drawings walked into a third grade classroom for Career Day was precisely when Kelly Mejia decided she wanted to be a part of the construction industry when she grew up. Now at the age of 26, Kelly is a Balfour Beatty senior project engineer with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Florida (UF), a Master in Construction Management from Florida International University (FIU), holds a General Contractor license and has her LEED Green Associate credentials. She’s also a member of the Miami Chamber of Commerce and the FIU School of Construction Industry Advisory Council. And that’s just the beginning.
Kelly is passionate about setting goals and working relentlessly to achieve them. “I always ask myself what I can do to improve myself and make myself more knowledgeable,” says Kelly. “I picture what I want to be, and then I work toward that until I get there.”
Her five-year goal is to be a project manager—ideally working on a healthcare project. Her interest in the medical field stems from the consistent demand for such facilities. She’s also learned about the interesting challenges these projects pose from veteran builder Steve Nielsen, a general superintendent for Balfour Beatty who has more than 37 years of total industry experience under his tool belt and 20 on healthcare projects.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone this young with so many significant achievements,” remarks Steve. “Kelly is extremely motivated and has an exceptional work ethic. I tell the guys all the time that they better be nice to her, because she’ll probably be their boss one day! She has an incredible future in our business.”
At 5’1” with a slight build, Kelly doesn’t immediately come across as a hardcore construction professional. But it doesn’t take long for people to figure out Kelly is dedicated to construction from the soles of her boots to the top of her hard hat. As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. She once heard a subcontractor foreman tell another, “You have to listen to what [Kelly’s] saying…she knows what she’s talking about.”
Kelly’s path to a construction career didn’t begin with that type of support, though. In her high school, the four year drafting program focused on architecture. In college, Kelly was told there was no money to be made in construction, which led her to pursue a degree in liberal arts. Still drawn to the field, Kelly applied to FIU’s OHL School of Construction. Others continued to discourage Kelly from pursuing her passions, but she decided she would prove them wrong. And she did just that, excelling as an intern on Balfour Beatty’s Miami-Dade College Hialeah Campus project. Balfour Beatty’s focus on teamwork and the camaraderie she experienced easily convinced Kelly to begin her career here.
At Balfour Beatty, Kelly has experienced the diverse and rewarding career she began dreaming of as a young child. She played an integral role on a project for her alma mater—the FIU Student Academic Center, which won a first place Eagle Award from the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of East Florida in 2016. Currently, she’s a member of the team building 3 Miami Central, which will serve as the headquarters for the new high-speed train connecting Miami and Orlando.
Kelly isn’t just building projects that benefit her community—she’s passionate about serving it too. Through a Miami Chamber of Commerce program for young professionals known as Leadership Miami, Kelly helps raise funds for worthy causes. In 2016, the team raised enough funds to renovate Holtz Children Hospital’s Pediatric Center classroom. This year, the team is helping renovate a park for a non-profit school that serves children with disabilities.
Though Kelly isn’t exactly one to let obstacles deter her, she does recognize the realities of working in a male-dominated industry. “As a woman in construction—and specifically in the field—you have to earn respect,” Kelly concedes. “Prove yourself with an outstanding performance, and communicate effectively. Once these are established, no one will question you just because you are a woman.” And no one is questioning Kelly. When she earned her GC license, she was the only woman and youngest among about 1,000 men testing on the same day. Not surprisingly, she passed on the first try.
There’s no question that talent and motivation differentiate Kelly, but perhaps that’s because building is in her blood. A first generation American born to parents from Honduras, Kelly’s father worked for a rebar and lumber company for 20 years. Growing up in Miami, she was fascinated by the tower cranes that dotted the skies in every direction. “Watching buildings go up in Miami was so cool,” remarks Kelly. “I grew up wanting to build one of them one day. Now I can say, ‘I’m so proud that I built that!’”