When Victoria Zahourek comes back to CU Denver as an alumna, she’ll be able to point to her legacy. She’ll be able to touch its walls, walk through its doors, work out on its elliptical machines.
A master’s student in the Construction Engineering and Management (CEM) program, Zahourek has contributed her skills and knowledge to the new Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center as a project engineer intern for Saunders Construction, Inc.
“I’m so proud of that building. It will connect our community and give pride to students,” said Zahourek, who plans to graduate in May, the same month the Student Wellness Center is scheduled to open. “When I applied to CU Denver, I described my passion for wanting to see a building all the way through construction. I’ve gotten to do that with the Student Wellness Center. It’s like watching your dreams come up in front of your eyes.”
A born engineer
Ever since she was a kid, Zahourek has seen herself as an engineer – but she didn’t start out on three-story, 85,000-square-foot, LEED-certified edifices.
“I’ve always been digging around in the dirt and fixing things,” Zahourek said. Her parents own the Elkhorn Lodge and Guest Ranch in Estes Park, one of the oldest hotels in Colorado. So, she grew up doing “everything from horse work to housekeeping.”
“I’ve fixed hydraulic lines, run backhoes … whatever my parents needed me to do,” she said. “And I think that experience helped me get the internship with Saunders Construction.”
The Loveland native holds an associate degree specializing in English and mechanical engineering from Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs, as well as a B.S. in geological engineering from Colorado School of Mines in Golden. She serves as president of CU Denver’s student chapter of the Construction Management Association of America.
With an interest in environmental sustainability, Zahourek has visions of integrating green technology in construction.
“There need to be some young, bright minds in the industry to take risks and push us toward sustainability for our kids and our grandkids,” she said.
An industry-backed program
Zahourek found a place for her own bright mind at the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS). She knew it had the only industry-backed CEM program in the state, and it was practically right in her backyard.
“Having that industry connection was pretty much the deciding factor for me.”
“I love that it’s in downtown Denver, where all of the action is,” she said. “Having that industry connection was pretty much the deciding factor for me.”
She remembers that, as she was researching CEM programs, she kept coming across scholarly articles by CEAS faculty. And since she became a student, she hasn’t been disappointed by those faculty members.
She credits Heidi Brothers, PhD, assistant professor of civil engineering, with helping her clinch the opportunity to work on the Student Wellness Center.
“Dr. Brothers has been my biggest mentor,” Zahourek said. “She has worked as a woman in the field of engineering for more than 30 years, and she is incredibly dedicated to her students.”
A woman in engineering
Zahourek has looked to Brothers for support when she’s been in situations where her voice and her work were undervalued – because of cultural norms and lack of gender equity.
Women make up 11 percent of practicing engineers, according to the Society of Women Engineers. Throughout her eight-month internship, Zahourek was the only female employee of Saunders on the job site daily.
“It’s hard being a woman in this male-dominated industry,” she said. “Often, it feels like there’s no seat at the table for you, as a woman. So, you just have to take your seat, and own it.”
But, Zahourek said, the adversity only fuels her love for the field of engineering and construction.
“It’s a challenge, but becoming an engineer builds the foundation that enables you to overcome extreme challenges,” she said. “As engineers, we wake up every day and face all of the world’s challenges.”