Catalina Miller: A new challenge every day

miller_catalinaThis feature is part of the “Nine Lives” feature from the summer 2013 issue of VISIONS magazine profiling nine ISU faculty members who are mixing it up in and out of the classroom

Back Story: Grew up in Bucuramanga, Colombia. Earned a B.S. in architecture from St. Thomas University in Colombia in 2002. Moved to the U.S. 10 years ago to study English. Everything worked out, so I was able to get in the master’s program at University of Oklahoma, where my sister was also studying. I graduated in 2005 with a master’s in construction administration. I met my husband in Florida and taught there at a small college for working adults. Then we moved to Pella, Iowa.

Why construction engineering? When I was a little kid we moved to a developing area so everything was growing up around us, buildings going up all the time. I always liked that. I wanted to be in that field. It’s a field that not a lot of women feel attracted to. I think maybe [it’s because] you need to get dirty. You’re walking in mud, you have to wear your boots, you are not wearing dresses. If you’re the kind of woman who likes to be pretty all the time, it’s probably not your field. I like to be outdoors, so I like jobs that allow me to get out of the office. I also like construction because you really are involved with people a lot. You always have to be in communication with people; you have to talk about the ideas. All the challenges are different every day. That’s probably the most exciting part.

How I came to Iowa State: I was working at Pella Corp. They needed engineers…but I needed more education. So I came to Iowa State in summer 2012 to work on my Ph.D. in construction engineering, and I also became an adjunct instructor in the department.

Life changer: I had the opportunity to work with a Red Cross project in Colombia, and that’s when I really started getting more involved in construction. Guerillas and the paramilitary had pushed the farmers to [undeveloped urban areas]. They left behind everything they had. So when they came to the cities they didn’t have the skills needed to live in the city, they didn’t have houses, they didn’t have money – they didn’t have anything. One of the projects was to bring water to the communities. We also built a multi-purpose building, which was a place they could have meetings. This was a big step. Now the community could get together and make decisions and have a leader. We also helped [provide] schools and bathrooms.

What I teach: I teach ConE 421 Construction Estimating and ConE 222 Contractor Organization and Management of Construction.

Scholarly pursuits: I’m pretty excited because I get to do my research on something that has to do with social interaction: social return on investment on transportation
programs with the Iowa DOT. I’m looking at how they prioritize maintenance, looking
at the economic impact, safety, all the risk assessment…. If they don’t maintain
the roads, will the economy of the state be affected? We’re measuring the social impact of the project. It’s pretty cool.

First job: I worked at a shoe store at age 15. The Christmas season was completely
horrible and overwhelming! It was so busy, we were throwing the shoes everywhere.

At home: Husband, Orin, who works for Vermeer and is the U.S. Navy Reserves;
two daughters:  Alison, 8, and Vanesa, 4

Some people might not know: I think one thing people sometimes don’t know: They think it’s easy to come here. Nobody really knows what you have to go through. In Colombia, people think if you’re here your family had a lot of money. People here think you have connections. I came here with a work visa. It was kind of tough. My family doesn’t have a lot of money. When I came here, I came with a very, very tight budget. I was actually working cleaning houses to get money for English classes in Oklahoma. I worked hard, but at the same time I had a lot of people helping me. When you come here and somebody asks to help you, you don’t say no. You need all the support that you can have.

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