Women at work – Nasim Daryaee: Illuminating the East End

From Iran to WashU - Sever graduate finds her light in project engineering

Leslie McCarthy 

Washington University women are rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done on the East End construction site in a variety of ways, from engineering to project managing to communications. Here’s another in a series spotlighting women students, staff and alumni who are contributing to the transformation.

One of the first projects architect Nasim Daryaee was assigned to work on as a master’s degree candidate at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis was a review of the Danforth Campus’ outdoor lighting — all of it, from the fixtures that illuminated Brookings Drive to the sconces that line the walkways of the South 40.

“It was time to evaluate the campus lighting,” said Daryaee, who graduated in 2015 with master’s degrees in architecture and construction management and is now a project engineer with McCarthy Building Companies. “I walked through campus with a GPS and located and catalogued every single light fixture on campus.”

It was a meticulous work that took about a year of days — and nights — measuring and recording the fixtures, observing the lit areas and determining whether the particular light met the area’s needs, and then making recommendations on adjustments and upgrades.

“We ended up updating the whole system to LED lighting, saving energy in the process and going green,” Daryaee said. “You might not have even noticed how much the campus lighting has improved and became more environmentally friendly. The whole project was fascinating.”

And the fact that it came at WashU, the campus where Daryaee studied architecture after leaving her home country of Iran, was welcomed with open arms. Now she’s back here daily again as a project engineer for McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., specifically assigned to the construction of James M. McKelvey, Sr. Hall.

It’s another chance to illuminate the Danforth Campus, this time with a building that will be a hallmark of the newly renamed McKelvey School of Engineering. And it comes on the heels of her first assignment with McCarthy as a project engineer: the expanded and renovated museum below the Gateway Arch. Daryaee first became familiar with the Arch as a college freshman in Iran, when she saw it on the cover of a book on international architecture.

“I’m very proud of being part of the Arch project,” she said, “but I’m even prouder of being part of this project at WashU because it’s my school.”

A typical day on the job begins for Daryaee around 6:30 a.m, when she begins by walking the job site checking on the trade contractors and making sure “they’re fresh, they’re safe, have all the safety equipment and they have everything that they need to consider for that day’s tasks.”

Daryaee onsite of McKelvey Hall on the East End project. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

An example: If something on the site needs to be moved with a crane, Daryaee will meet with the team to lay out what specific tasks are needed to complete the job; make sure all the equipment and personnel is on hand; and conduct what is called a Task and Hazard Analysis. Then she’ll return to her office in the trailer and spend time on various tasks throughout the day that include checking the digital model of the site — a chance to use her digital design degree — doing paperwork or communicating with subcontractors.

She even finds it important to carve out time to work out or go for a run during her lunch hour with co-workers or friends. “Thankfully, we have a small room on the worksite where we can work out. I like to work out with my colleagues. It increases teamwork.”

It’s that teamwork that she finds beneficial, especially being a woman in such a prominent position in a field traditionally dominated by men. “At first it was tough to find myself in construction, but McCarthy, through a program called McCarthy Partnership for Women, has been very supportive. They are committed to ensuring I have opportunities for growth in roles that I’m interested in.”

It’s a job well-suited for her.

“I manage and analyze all critical data to inform all stakeholders. Customizing all information to all parties important to the site: the owner, the design team, all my subcontractors, my build guys, my staff. It’s all communication and managing information.”

And it’s a job in which respect is earned, not given. “When I’m consistent and I’m showing that I know what I want and that I know what I’m doing, people start noticing. ‘Oh, she knows what she’s talking about.’

“And then the respect comes, too, and that’s important. That’s a whole game-changing, turning point.”

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