Leading Construction and Design Through a Human-Centered Approach

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Krystal McDoom currently manages a $35 million portfolio across six projects at the University of Chicago in her role as project manager. Each construction project holds a unique set of demands, and McDoom’s role is to make sure everything gets done on time and on budget. 

McDoom serves as a translator of sorts, helping engineers and architects understand the needs of the university’s stakeholders and helping the stakeholders understand the possibilities and constraints based on the City of Chicago’s building code requirements, feasibility, budget, and schedule.

“Construction management is not as grimy and dirty as some people may think it is,” says McDoom. “There’s an art and a science to it that people who don’t work in this industry don’t typically realize.”

McDoom grew up in Saint Lucia, an island in the Caribbean. With an early knack for the technical, and a desire to follow in her older brothers’ footsteps, McDoom took her high school’s technical education track, through which she learned about topics such as technical drawing, building technology, electrical technology, and physics. 

She wanted to go to college, but saw it as a distant dream, unsure of how she might get there or if it would happen at all.

“There's no real access to tertiary levels of education for people like me, or people that come from my country,” says McDoom. 

She earned an associate’s degree in architectural technology at a community college in her home country and then found a job as a civil engineering technician, helping engineers draw up plans and performing onsite supervision for quality control purposes. 

Then a unique partnership with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and Illinois Institute of Technology, created access to a new opportunity: several St. Lucians, including McDoom, were able to apply for Illinois Tech’s Presidential Scholarship, and McDoom was among a few of those who were selected.

In summer 2010, she ventured to Chicago for the first time in pursuit of a brighter future.

“The very last project and role I functioned in before I left St. Lucia was oriented more to construction management than the design aspect. There was something about this area of the industry that really clicked for me and that I really enjoyed. This experience made me curious about what to focus on next as I was about to embark on my educational journey,”  says McDoom. 

As a result, she decided to study architectural engineering with a specialty in construction management, and says the rigorous engineering program gave her the technical expertise, time management, and problem-solving skills to thrive in her current position. 

Throughout her time at Illinois Tech, McDoom served in chapter, regional, and national leadership roles for NSBE, loyal to the organization that helped her find a path to continue her education.  

“Access to new leadership opportunities [at Illinois Tech] also very much helped me as a young professional going into the industry and in many ways helped shape my leadership style now,” says McDoom. “The sheer breadth of exposure beyond just the classroom at student and professional events and such helped me understand the importance of building myself as a well-rounded person as well as my network.”

As a project manager, McDoom has led teams through the design and construction of many spaces with tangible impact, a few of which include upgrading pharmaceutical and lab spaces at a children’s hospital based in Chicago.  

McDoom recently completed managing the design and construction of a project called Mindworks for the University of Chicago. It’s a unique combination of a behavioral science laboratory and museum exhibit space that teaches people about how the mind interprets the world and empowers people with knowledge of unconscious biases. 

This project inspired her to consider how she might carry these ideas of behavioral science as well as emotional and social intelligence into her profession.

“I’m at this stage in my life and career where I’m trying to understand what it is that’s important to me and how I can make an impact in the industry,” says McDoom. “ Although the technical aspect is important to me, I find the human aspect very intriguing, and I think it is an aspect that is often neglected. I would really like to find a way to integrate several of these ideas and concepts about emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and behavioral science, and apply it to the construction industry.”

McDoom includes diversity, equity, and inclusion in her vision to influence change in her profession. 

“Being a woman of color in an industry that’s still predominantly male, sometimes still poses some challenges,” says McDoom. “I would love to be part of helping increase people’s awareness to be part of that change.”