Genevieve McJilton, the first woman to graduate from the U’s Construction Management program, shares her insights and advice from over three decades in the field

Genevieve McJilton got her first degree in chemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1989 and went to work managing what she calls “below-ground projects” that involved preparing sites for development, such as environmental assessments, demolition surveys, and remediation operations. About 10 years later, while taking a course in reading blueprints at a community college, McJilton learned about a new program in construction management that was launching at the U. Within a few years, she had earned her second degree, graduating with a bachelor’s of applied science in Construction Management (CMGT) in 2001.

At the time, she was working at Ryan Companies. With CMGT diploma in hand, she moved to work on “above-ground projects,” such as coordinating and implementing their design-build management system, and project managing development and construction projects. All this, in collaboration with city officials, community members, architects, and engineers.

Genevieve McJiltong leans against a glass turnstile in downtown Minneapolis

In 2010, McJilton became a project manager for Target, based in the home office in downtown Minneapolis, overseeing construction of existing and new stores, such as the Target in Dinkytown. Her current territory is New York City, where the complexity of projects has her working locally with the New York contractor during the week. (Fun fact: As if running projects was not enough, McJilton ran the NYC Marathon in November!)

McJilton is a frequent guest judge for competitions and presentation events and a long-serving member of the program’s advisory board. As the first woman to graduate from the CMGT program, McJilton shares some insight from her long career.

How has the rising prevalence of women in construction affected the industry?

Over the past 20 years I’ve watched the diversity of the construction industry change for the positive. As more women have entered the construction industry, it has brought different styles of project management and approaches to solving problems throughout a project. I believe this has allowed the industry to grow and embrace different ways of successfully completing projects.  

What is a typical day like for a construction project manager?

No two days are the same, which is what keeps me coming back. What may have been on my list at the start of the day will likely not match what I accomplished during the day. The best part of the day is working collaboratively with the team to solve problems and implement solutions that make us all successful.

What advice do you have for new project managers?

Listen. I found it helpful to get to know the project team members and their responsibilities. Learning as much about each of their jobs as possible let me understand how a project gets completed successfully. It is important to recognize there is always something new to learn, so surround yourself with people smarter than you and don’t be afraid to ask them for advice or help.

What makes the CMGT program so special?

The instructors! The instructors work in the industry in addition to teaching, providing students with real-life experiences versus theory that they can share with students. Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Steve Hauser and Brad Creager, two current faculty (also from Target) teaching in the program. We share issues, problems, and wins with each other that help us continue to grow our experience as project managers, and make us better teachers.

What courses stand out as important?

The communications courses are very important. For those aspiring to be good project managers, they’ll need to align the needs and wants of a lot of stakeholders and that requires transparency and open communication and trust between all involved. The CMGT program places a lot of emphasis on developing good communication skills.

As the first woman to graduate from the program, what would you tell prospective women students about the industry?

Though I may have been the first and only woman graduating that year, it is a decision I have never regretted. I’ve had the opportunity to work in different roles within the construction industry throughout my career, taking me to all parts of the United States and Canada, working on a wide range of construction projects.

Each time I come to an event for the U of M Construction Management Program and see all the women taking classes and graduating, it lets me know it was worth it. As women, we bring a different perspective to project management and problem solving. With more women entering all aspects of the construction field, it has allowed the industry to evolve and change for the better. I say to the future graduate, "be ready to work hard, think outside the box. But also know you will be a part of something that impacts all of us everyday."

Monique Dubos is a writer and content strategist with the U of M College of Continuing and Professionals Studies, where she has covered the College’s noncredit professional development, construction management, health services management, and IT infrastructure programs since 2018. She has also written for the Institute on the Environment, the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program, and various publications. Connect with her via LinkedIn.