Celebrating Women's History Month
Did you know that Palacio’s team is 69% women? In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are honored to talk with three leading women in our firm – Susan M. Smith, R. Kaye Smith, and Kerron Roberts. By telling their stories, we hope to amplify the voices of women in the AEC Industry and have them serve as a source of inspiration and empowerment to others.
Susan M. Smith, AIA, CPE
Senior Vice President | Senior Cost Manager
With 34 years of experience in the AEC industry, Susan M. Smith started her journey as an architect intern for a firm that was partially owned by an estimating consultant. She went on to become a registered architect, but her passion for costing solutions led her to a career in cost estimating. Today, Susan utilizes her expertise for understanding the design goals very early in the process to guide client’s in making cost savings solutions that do not compromise the scope or design.
What is the biggest change you have seen in the field since you started?
Definitely technology and the sophistication level of projects. When I first started, drawings were hand-drafted and we prepared estimates using manual measurements and calculators. Computers were just getting started and spreadsheet programs were in their infancy. (I guess I am really dating myself!) Now, everything is done electronically and our phones (and tablets) are more powerful than I could have imagined back then. I say that as I am typing this between virtual meetings where I am taking notes and marking up drawings on my iPad. I know some estimators, mostly contractors, are using 3D models to extract quantities, but we are still using 2D on screen to calculate our quantities. I believe, eventually, all estimators will use 3D models, but as a whole, the industry is not quite there yet. The younger generation will likely change that. Currently, the model must be “redrawn” so that the elements are tagged the way we, as estimators, need them. Technology is wonderful when it works for all parties.
What advice(s) would you give to someone just starting out in the field of cost estimating?
Absorb as much information as you can from any and all sources. The biggest key for conceptual estimating is to anticipate everything that will be needed for the final construction documents. Therefore, you should pay attention to things such as where wall ratings occur, what types of finishes are typical for various spaces, what types of millwork occur and where, etc. Ideally, you would work on more advanced drawing take-offs first so that you can learn what to expect when working from less developed documents. Communication is extremely important. If you don’t understand the design intent, ask! The estimate is only as good as our understanding of the project.
R. Kaye Smith
SC Business Director | Senior Cost Manager
R. Kaye Smith has been estimating since 1990 and accredits her successful career to always treating each individual client like they are her only client. Working with several repeat client’s for over 25 years, they attest that her work ethic to go the extra mile and southern charm is why they wouldn’t go to anyone else. Today, Kaye leads the SC office and utilized her catalogue of historical data of over 750 projects to shape the communities we live in.
What has been the most surprising part of being a woman working in the AEC industry?
I dreamed of being in the fashion industry for years, ever since I was in junior high and high school. My first job was working for a small boutique when I was a freshman in high school. For several years, I was able to go to the fashion merchandising shows in Charlotte and fell in love with it. But, due to my mother being diagnosed with breast cancer my senior year I felt that I needed to take a year off from starting at Queen’s college in Charlotte. Chasing my dreams of being in the fashion industry never happened and my life took a different path as I started working for a family-owned construction cost estimating firm in 1990. I was going to a local technical school for my degree in Business Management and became interested in learning how to read architectural drawings, so the owner began training me on how to read them. Within six months, I started learning how to do take-offs and, before I knew it, I was in love with estimating. I was with that company for 28 years and now I am with an amazing firm and continue to learn and grow in our industry. I like being a part of the AEC industry, what was once populated with men is now filled with several talented women. I hope that my granddaughters see that women can become part of a male dominated industry and make our mark on it as well.
What is your most memorable moment working in the AEC industry?
I have had the opportunity to be part of multiple different types of projects. One of my most memorable moments was done a few years ago where I was the senior cost estimator for a women veterans project. It was such an honor to be part of this project, to offer the women veterans a safe place for their mental health and their physical well-being. They deserve this kind of facility for their dedication to our freedom, leaving their families behind so that we all feel safe.
Senior Cost Manager
Kerron Roberts began her journey in the AEC industry at a small estimating firm, upon graduating college. She then joined Palacio Collaborative when it was still in its early stages of growth. Working for only 15 years in the industry, Kerron has shown exceptional growth as she leads multiple projects, continues to master her estimating skills, and gain a better understanding of the industry.
When did you realize you wanted to work in the AEC Industry?
I have always loved connecting pieces together. I believe the seed was planted one summer in high school when I participated in a program where we got to assist construction workers with some of the school's renovation. The following school year, I enrolled in shop but was deterred from completing the program because it "didn't fit with college and AP courses", I think it was because I was a girl. I was determined to find a college that offered both architecture and construction as majors. I entered Southern Polytechnic University (now Kennesaw University) as an architecture major but quickly switched to construction management. I then discovered estimating and knew this is what I truly wanted to do as it combined my love for details and numbers. Also, the fact that this profession was done indoors and not in Georgia's heat was a major plus!
What is your favorite project that you have worked on?
I have had a couple of favorites over the years, but my most recent favorite project is the Auburn University Football Performance Center that we were teamed with Goodwyn Mills Cawood. The finishes on the project are beautiful, especially for a football center, and I love projects with a nice finish and several intricate details! Even though these projects are sometimes the most time consuming to take-off, I love seeing them fit all together in the end.