Respected for Her Work, a Mom Thrives in Construction at Manhattanville

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Valerie Adams, a carpenter with the Local 157

Valerie Adams, a carpenter with the Local 157, working at the Lenfest Center for the Arts.

All too common in male-dominated industries are women working twice as hard and getting half the respect as their male counterparts.

For Valerie Adams and her experience as a carpenter in the Local 157, the hard work has certainly been there. Fortunately for her time working at Columbia University’s Manhattanville development, her co-workers have recognized her hard work with the respect that it deserves.Adams, an employee with Creative Construction Services of East Elmhurst, Queens, has been working at Columbia’s Manhattanville site for more than a year and a half, both on the Jerome L. Greene Science Center and Lenfest Center for the Arts.

According to Adams, who is also a mother of four children, the male colleagues in her immediate circle admire and commend her, reaping her added praise for doing her job so well while balancing her responsibilities as a mom.

Her path to construction at Manhattanville was not straightforward. Born in France, Adams came to the United States at the age of eight.

Later on in her adult career, to break into the construction industry, Adams entered a class through the organization Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW). She was one of 28 women in her NEW class, which met for six weeks from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, mirroring the typical hours at a construction site.

The NEW class prepared participants for the rigor and responsibility required to succeed in the construction industry. There were written tests and physically strenuous activities to make sure participants could meet the standards of a construction site. There were also strict attendance rules. Twice absent or late and a participant would be removed from the program to prepare them for the expectations on a work site.

Upon successful completion of the program, NEW helps connect graduates with a union. From there, Adams completed her apprenticeship and then passed a test to become a journeyman and eventually shop steward. She has been doing this work for the past 10 years with projects that include Carnegie 57, Trump residential buildings on the Upper West Side and 29 Flatbush in Brooklyn.

For Adams, the fit with construction work is a natural. “I love working with my hands, building things, and seeing the end product.”

She has also felt a special connection with the assignment at Columbia.

“At Columbia, with all of the trades working together, it feels like a big family,” stated Adams. “I’m more comfortable here than at sites I’ve worked in the past. Each trade helps one another.”

Adams also feels safer. “Here, the safety crew seems to care more and not just treat it as their job. They spend more time educating you. They work by your side. And when something is not being done correctly, they stop and explain why in a supportive manner.”

Her pride at completed work at Columbia extends beyond seeing a finished building. “Within those walls [of the Jerome L. Greene Science Center], there will be research on the brain and on diseases such as Alzheimer’s that could potentially be life-changing. Knowing that my fellow trades and I built the place where that could happen makes me proud.”

As a neighbor living on 147th Street and 8th Avenue, Adams sees a positive impact from Columbia’s Manhattanville campus and other cultural institutions in the area.

“People from all over the world are being drawn to Harlem and reviving its multicultural legacy.”

“I feel good that I’m helping to rebuild a part of home. And in the future, my kids can look at the campus and say their mom helped build those buildings.”