To many, the story of a college student who started classes in the autumn of 2009 but is now planning to graduate in the spring of 2020, they might think it’s a story of failure. But to senior construction systems management major Mecah Mochoge, it’s a story of perseverance.
Mecah was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. Like many local kids, the desire to go to The Ohio State University was in her blood. “You bleed Scarlet and Grey,” as Mecah puts it. With the drive to go to Ohio State, but not knowing e actly what she wanted to study, Mecah turned to career aptitude tests to guide her way. They all pointed along the same path: to become an engineer.
In 2009, Mecah started her Ohio State career in engineering undecided in order to explore the fourteen different engineering disciplines the college had to offer. But engineering didn’t turn out to be all that Mecah wanted it to be.
“I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day,” says Mecah. She wanted to work with her hands, to talk to other people. “That’s when my career counselor recommended CSM.”
The construction systems management (CSM) major at Ohio State offered Mecah everything she was looking for. While rooted in engineering principles, the major was hands-on, practical, and required a great deal of teamwork. And for two years, the CSM program proved to be a perfect fit for Mecah. Then, finances became tight and Mecah took two years off to work.
One day, a pair of army recruiters came into the shoe store where Mecah was working and asked what she knew about the Army Corps of Engineers. It was a path that aligned with her studies in CSM, and so Mecah signed on.
Mecah served with the Army Corps of Engineers for four years. She was stationed in Savannah, Georgia and over the course of her service her unit was deployed to Germany, Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic. While deployed, her unit worked on NATO missions with local European units. Their work was familiar to Mecah and aired on the heavy/civil side of engineering and construction. In one case, they expanded airways for a Romanian airport. Her unit demolished rubble and overgrowth so that their Romanian allies could come in and put down the concrete.
“For anybody who is having financial issues, the military is a great option,” says Mecah. “Four years might seem like a long time, but it’s worth it for the financial freedom you get. Now, I go to school and I won’t have any more loans. That’s a great burden taken off of you.”
Mecah returned from her service to come right back into the CSM program. She describes the process as an easy transition. She sat down with Ben Carignan, a CFAES College Academic Counselor and fellow veteran, who helped get her back on track for her degree in CSM.
“A lot of younger students see me for guidance since I am older. And I tell them that networking is key.”
Networking proved key for Mecah in finding her first internship position through CSM. During a mixer with the CSM program’s Industry Advisory Council, she found a woman who would eventually become her mentor in the field. Mecah brought her mentor several of the internship offers she had received to ask for her opinion.
“Her advice was to make sure those companies align with your morals,” said Mecah. “Then she asked what I thought about her own company. I got an offer 2 days later. It was an amazing experience. I have never, in the 29 years of my life, enjoyed going to work every single day.”
Like many internships, Mecah hit the ground running from day one. 30 minutes in to her first day, her supervisor asked how quickly she could pack her bags and that afternoon they were off to Orlando for a week. During her internship, Mecah was trusted with two brand-new pilot projects. Halfway through her internship, Mecah was offered a full-time role with the company.
As Mecah recalls, “I had to learn to deal with fire and be flexible. I wanted my work to be perfect, I wanted my guys to know what to expect for the projects to come.”
It’s no secret that the construction industry is a male-dominated field. However, Mecah found that there a lot of resources at Ohio State to help women in the field. It’s not always an easy fight, but with a supportive network of peers and mentors, Mecah has found success: “It’s a tough road right now for females in engineering. You have to have the ability to let some stuff roll off and keep pushing.”
After graduation, Mecah plans to work for the company where she interned, but that’s not her ultimate goal. Someday, Mecah hopes to start her own non-profit organization for veterans. The organization would build housing for homeless veterans, while training them to learn trade skills to get them on their feet.
“I have brothers and sisters in arms that are homeless. If I can use my skills, then I can help them gain the same skills.”
Throughout her winding journey to receive her diploma, Mecah has persevered through much and yet she still focuses her efforts on others.
by Chip Tuson