NARI Celebrates Women in Construction Week

We celebrate these women whose stories embody the knowledge, drive and determination of NARI members to effect change and create a more diverse workforce.

2021

Susanne Van Selow, MCKBR, GCP

Susanne Van Selow, MCKBR, GCP, is president and owner of Van Selow Design Build LLC in Seminole, Florida. Her interest in the construction business started in high school where she began drafting and working with Computer Aided Design. She began her professional career as a receptionist at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California and within a year, was recruited to teach AutoCAD and Interdraft for the government. Shortly after moving to Florida, she earned her Certified Building Contractor’s license and started Van Selow Design Build LLC. Since then, she has earned numerous awards including the Best of Houzz Service Award three years in a row, and many Remodeler of the Year Awards.
 
Van Selow Design primarily focuses on high-end residential remodels with a goal of taking on more commercial projects this year. Susanne’s favorite part about working in the remodeling industry is the design aspect and being able to put a smile on the faces of her clients. She also doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. “I love when I get to tear things apart. I love being able to tear a full house apart and then put it back together.” 

Susanne joined NARI in 2006, has served on several committees and is a past president of the NARI Tampa Bay Chapter. She credits the connections she’s made within the organization as tremendously beneficial to her career. “Having the camaraderie and respect of all the guys who do what I do has been great,” she says. Van Selow Design is also on it’s way to becoming a NARI Accredited Remodeling Company. “NARI has been a huge part of my growth. I’ve owned my company for 17 years and with NARI for 16. I wouldn’t be where I am today without NARI.”

Despite working in a male-dominated industry, Susanne says being a woman in construction is an advantage. When it comes to working with clients on a project, “the woman makes the decisions in the household,” she said. She offers this advice to other women who are thinking about a career in the field, “You need to get involved, reach out, and make an effort to join organizations like NARI,” she says. “It takes a village to do what we do, and NARI is my village.”

Chontrelle Price Asuman, CRPM

Chontrelle Price Asuman, CRPM, didn’t necessarily see herself in a career in the construction industry. Prior to 2017, she and her husband owned a retail store for 10 years. It was while working at her store that Chontrelle developed a friendship with a customer named Leo Lantz, the owner of a design-build construction company. Little did she know that this friendship would eventually take her career in a new direction. 

After starting a family, Chontrelle became a stay-at-home mom for her five children while her husband managed the store. The pair sold the store in 2017. In February of 2018, she and Leo Lantz reconnected and he offered her a position at his construction firm. “The construction business is tough. There’s a lot of different things you need to know to succeed,” she said. Luckily, Leo took Chontrelle under his wing and taught her the ins-and-outs of the business. 

In her current role as Office Manager for Leo Lantz Construction in Glen Allen, Virginia, Chontrelle wears many different hats. She handles everything from estimating, talking to clients, sales, scheduling, and more. That’s no easy task during a pandemic where Chontrelle is simultaneously completing her duties while helping her five children with remote schooling. On top of that, Chontrelle recently earned her Certified Remodeling Project Manager (CRPM) certification. “It was tough to do in the midst of COVID,” she said. She praises her instructors who helped set her up for success during the certification process. “I loved the way they brought real life experience to the table for us to learn.”

Chontrelle recommends other women consider growing and developing their skills when entering the construction field. “When it comes to construction and remodeling, being able to learn as much as you can and build on it, is critical,” she said. “Being caught up on the latest trends, plumbing and electrical codes, etc., is important in order to do your job properly.”


Zoe Kardasis Sturtz, CR

Zoe Kardasis Sturtz, CR, began her career in finance but soon discovered a passion for residential remodeling and project management after starting a kitchen remodel in her own home. It was this newfound passion that led Zoe to earn her certification in Kitchen and Bath Design and soon start working at a Minneapolis design-build firm. 

After Zoe and her husband were laid off from their jobs during the Great Recession, the pair decided to take on a whole new adventure. Using Zoe’s experience in design and sales and her husband’s architecture background, they started Edit Design Build Studio in Minneapolis in 2009. “I really like that my work changes all the time. I enjoy the variety of the business, and not having to work at a desk all day long,” Zoe said. “There’s a lot of moving around in our business.”

Despite years of experience, being a female business owner in a male dominated industry is not without its frustrations. “95 percent of the time, people think I’m just a designer. I find that frustrating,” she said. The ironic part is, design is not even the favorite part of her day. “In fact my husband much prefers the design work and I prefer the project management and operations side of it,” she said.

In recent years, Zoe has noticed more women taking on leadership roles. For an industry that doesn’t have a great reputation for communication and timeliness, Zoe sees women as catalysts to change negative perceptions. “I love working with the woman who runs the electrical company we work with. She’s very organized and great at communication, which are traits that historically speaking, people are frustrated with in the world of construction,” she said. “A lot of those frustrations don’t happen as often when I work with other women.”

When offering advice to women interested in a remodeling or construction career, Zoe suggests finding other women to offer help and guidance. She started a women in construction roundtable for the NARI Minnesota Chapter and highly suggests other women in the industry join forces to start their own groups. “Roundtables are my favorite time!” Learn more about Zoe.


Maria Kovach, CRPM

Maria Kovach, CRPM, knew she had an eye for design and construction from an early age after watching her parents build her childhood home from the ground up. She also knew she wanted to own her own business but initially didn't see remodeling as a possible career path. After enlisting in the military, working other jobs, and raising a family, Maria decided to follow her passion and start her own design-build company.

For the majority of her remodeling career, Maria was a one-woman show and managed projects from design to finish for her clients. However, while attending a chief architect class in 2019, she met a fellow female designer and within months the two started Mojo Home Interiors in the Madison, Wisconsin area. 

At Mojo, Maria appreciates the fact that she can focus on implementation and project management. “I like being on the job site. I like interacting with the guys,” she says. “I like to see a project go from paper to reality.” It’s also important to make sure to have fun. “If something tells me this isn’t going to be a fun project, then I’m willing to walk away from it,” she said.

With over a decade of leadership experience in the industry, Maria knows first-hand about the challenges women face with asserting authority. “Early on, I had my fair share of dealings with men who are very smart but did not communicate well and did not want to take direction from someone like me,” she said. Maria credits her time in the military and her strong-willed personality in helping her be a better leader. “Being comfortable, and being able to stand in front of someone, particularly men, and say we need to make this modification because xyz, is very important,” she said.

Maria advises other women interested in taking their remodeling career to the next level to join organizations like NARI and take advantage of the support system it offers. “Set yourself up with the people who are going to help you be successful, and NARI has been that for me,” she said. “If I had known in my high school days that this could have been a career, I would’ve done it a long time ago."


Johanna Bowen

Johanna Bowen always had a profound respect for older structures and maintaining their historic character. Her passion for design and renovation developed while watching her mother and aunt complete remodeling projects during summer trips to her aunt’s house in New Jersey. In high school, she was able to use her passion to help out the community  by taking volunteer trips to Appalachia where she helped repair houses. She eventually went on to study art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and began working for a lawyer after graduation. Johanna was content with her job at the time but knew her true calling was still out there.

Life would eventually take Johanna to Richmond, Virginia, where she pursued her passion for renovating old homes. She got a job as a carpenter’s assistant renovating high-end and historic properties where she learned how to manage and execute construction jobs. 

After being laid off in 2006, doing some traveling and working side jobs, Johanna decided to start Integrity Construction in 2008. For the next six years, Johanna was a one-woman shop but has since built up her team to several full-time employees and an extended team of subcontractors.

Johanna recognizes the importance of having women in all different types of roles in the industry and what that means to women homeowners. “Women homeowners trust women contractors,” she said. “They don’t feel bullied, or pushed, or belittled.” When asked to lend advice to other women thinking about joining the industry, she kept it short and sweet. “Just do it.”


2020

Melissa Andrekus

“We’re all here to do the same job,” Melissa Andrekus says of her career as an electrical foreman in a male-dominated industry. Learn more about Melissa, on site at the new NARI headquarters.
 

Allie Berenyi, CLC

Ask Allie Berenyi, CLC,  what she enjoys most about being in the construction and remodeling industry and she’ll tell you it’s the unique opportunity to be hands-on and watch a project take shape in a real, tangible way.
 
Today, Allie applies her 27 years of industry experience as an instructor of construction & remodeling at Madison Area Technical College, located in Wisconsin’s state capital. Since 2005, she has taught a variety of classes to thousands of budding contractors and remodelers. Today, women represent 20% of the student population where 15 years ago, the student population was predominately male. She is also seeing people mid-career looking for a change. Whether their corporate jobs, such as computer programming, wasn’t rewarding, or people who work with their hands, including farming and art, are now turning to the trades.
 
She currently teaches framing and exterior finishes, estimating, building science, commercial construction and a course on remodeling, which she still finds time to do outside of work.
 
Allie ensures her students get real-world experience, including participating in an actual home build and working on framing and refinishing projects. According to Allie, the reason so many women of all ages are turning to construction is because they want to get out from behind a desk and do something that’s truly rewarding. As someone who did the same thing early in her career, Allie understands completely.
 
Allie is also an advocate for women in the industry, often volunteering her time and speaking on workforce development issues.

Judy Transue, CR, CRPM

As a young girl growing up on a busy Midwestern farm, Judy Transue, CR, CRPM, learned the value of hard work and on-the-job problem solving. Both served her well in her previous role as an IT professional. And today, after 15 years in the remodeling industry, Judy relies on her ability to apply logic, persistence and project management skills for clients of CHC Design-Build, the Kansas City-based firm she co-owns with her husband, Kevin.

While Kevin focuses on project design and custom cabinetry, Judy manages the overall business—selling projects, collaborating with clients, handling operations. According to Judy, much of her success stems from her interest in continuous education. Through NARI, she connected the dots of her professional experience with valuable certifications. She credits education as a key building block in her career.

This well-rounded background serves Judy well in a male-driven business. She says that while some male counterparts occasionally mistake her for a designer, it’s actually the female homeowners who are surprised by her role as a remodeler; as this is the first time they have seen a women in this position. But, as a Certified Remodeler with strong credentials, Judy proves every day that women can thrive as leaders in this dynamic industry.
 
As President of the NARI Kansas City chapter, Judy is committed to serving her local remodeling community and being an advocate for small business owners.

Jess Cannizzaro, CRPM, UDCP

Jess Cannizzaro, CRPM, UDCP, earned both a Business undergraduate degree and an MBA. She’s a Milwaukee-area small business owner and manages 14 employees. She’s also in a career she truly loves. If this sounds like a familiar success story, it may be surprising to learn that Jess is a licensed plumber.
 
Her path began with an apprenticeship in her father’s business. As she studied to earn her degrees, Jess also worked as a plumber. After five years (and despite a warning from her concerned father), she started her very own business, Milestone Plumbing, just before her 30th birthday. Jess relied on her business school skills and a loan from the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC). After being denied by banks, WWBIC gave Jess her first loan because they believed in her talents and business vision ( they even became her first customer).

According to Jess, building a customer base in a male-dominated industry required her to work around the clock, never turn away business, and even hope that “Jess” could be presumed to be a man’s name with new prospects. Nevertheless, her zest for learning, ability to advocate for herself and commitment to protecting the public health have paid off.
 
Jess has made a commitment to workforce development and to help combat the shortage of plumbers by sponsoring apprentices. This year, Milestone Plumbing celebrates nine years in business. Jess continues to set new milestones for herself, including reinvesting in her business, employee training and speaking on workforce development topics.