When Diana Hagan was growing up, there were no programs that encouraged girls to consider a career in construction. Years later, when she enrolled in the construction management program at Eastern Kentucky University, she was the only woman.
Something had to change.
That's why she decided to chair the Block Kids Building Competition, sponsored by the Bluegrass Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction.
"I want to raise awareness," she said. "Young girls may not see women engineers on a day-to-day basis. I want them to know it is OK to be a girl and be in construction."
Cindy Hiens, project administrator at Messer Construction, is involved for some of the same reasons. "We want to get kids involved in thinking of construction early on as a viable option for their future," she said.
Construction covers a wide variety of careers, and some of them aren't out in the field, she said. "A lot of time is spent on computers and image modeling to make sure everything will go into the building that has been designed," Hiens said.
The Block Kids competition was held for a couple of years in Versailles on a smaller scale before moving to Lexington in 2014. About 30 Meadowthorpe Elementary School students participated last year.
This year, 70 students from Maxwell Elementary School have signed up to compete at the Feb. 6 event.
Despite doubling the number of participants, Hagan wants more. She wants to get all Fayette County elementary schools involved. But to do that, she needs more help. The biggest obstacles at this point are a sufficient supply of Legos and a space large enough to hold the competition.
Each student is given 100 building blocks of various sizes, 12 inches of string, an 18-inch square of aluminum foil, an 18-by-18 piece of poster board and a rock. They are instructed to create and design a structure with the blocks and three of the four other items.
Last year, Ralph Bright created a house that was covered in aluminum foil for protection from the environment and dangled a rock from the string to simulate a moon in orbit.
That idea won the competition, and Ralph moved on to the regional level.
Until there is a citywide competition, Hagan said, Block Kids will move to another elementary school each year so different students can be involved. She has enough volunteers this year, both male and female, but more will be required if the event continues to grow.
Fortunately, there will be enough blocks available this year, thanks to a generous donation from Kim Hellmueller with GCCS Inc. Hellmueller donated 21 new 100-piece sets of Legos. She also donated snacks for participants, crayons and notepads for goodie bags, and Toys R Us gift cards totaling $150 for the winners.
"During our event, many children hear for the first time about different areas of construction or ways they can be involved, from office work to field workers, architects and planners, engineers, managers, suppliers and more," Hagan said. "This is just one way we can open their minds to the endless possibilities of a career in construction. Fun events such as this encourage the interest of future generations of construction workers."
Twelve businesses helped NAWIC pull off this year's event. Hagan hopes that more students will participate next year, and if that happens, she will need lots more help.
"We are actively seeking donations to help fund this annual community event and others like it to promote the construction industry," said Hagan who also is vice president of the Bluegrass chapter of NAWIC. "If you are considering donating to a great cause, this is definitely the one. We are asking for any contribution, whether it is monetary, future donations for the event, or goodie-bag stuffers."
This year's competition, which is not open to the general public, will be 5:30 to 8 p.m. Feb. 6 at Maxwell. The winner will advance to the regional level and, if successful there, will go on to the national competition.