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As late as the ’60s and ’70s, high school vocational classes were often segregated by sex. Girls were relegated to home economics to learn to cook and sew, to prepare for becoming housewives. In shop classes, boys learned to make and repair things, to prepare for jobs.

But things were a little different when Shanae (Sha-NAY) Brooks came along at Waggener High School (2006-2010), where there was a wood shop.

“In high school, they still had the trades and I was able to take drafting and CAD, and I also had carpentry and woodworking in shop,” says Shanae, 28. “I got into design that way.” 

Those early experiences led her to a career as an architectural engineer. She works for Harmon Construction and is a project manager for one of the large construction undertakings at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).

“I grew up in construction,” Shanae says. “My father has been in carpentry my whole life. Even as a child, we would visit different houses and projects that he worked on, and I was intrigued and would help out when I could. I’m a hands-on person. I like to do woodwork at my house.” She just made a desk for a friend and is working on a coffee table for another friend

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At first, she wanted to go to trade school. But, “My father said, ‘I would rather that you get paid for this.’ Instead of following in his footsteps, I thought I would be a structural engineer. I love the skeleton of a building. But construction would not leave my side; it felt good to play in the mud and get paid for it.”

So, she chose architectural engineering, which is an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to the planning, design, construction, and operation of buildings. Architectural engineers are responsible for the design of the structural, heating, cooling, electrical, lighting, and fire protection systems for buildings. 

For Harmon Construction, she helps oversee the extension to the baggage claim terminal at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. It’s one of several large construction ventures going on at the airport. “I will be managing the extension to the custom service building,” Shanae says. “It will make more space for baggage claim and ticketing, and make the airport run more smoothly.”

The Tennessee State University graduate is responsible for checking the job site and the blueprints, managing the budget, coordinating the order of construction, and knowing the building and safety codes. “All the intricate details,” she says, including “the safety of the people who will be inhabiting the space, also the safety of the people who are building the building. I never do anything by myself. I coordinate with my superintendent and other team members.”

In construction, she is a double minority. “That was another challenge, but I faced it,” Shanae says. “I love being able to represent that, and seeing other women who look 

like me putting the hammer to the nail. You don’t think of that when you think of construction at all.”

Though she commutes one and a half hours each way from Louisville to the airport each day, she finds time to help mentor high school students for Leaders of Tomorrow, an after-school program that promotes financial literacy, leadership, career prep, and college prep. It is a program of the National Black MBA Association.

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Her dress philosophy

Come as you are. I don’t mean sweatpants or flip-flops. At work, there are enough tasks and enough people needing things from you. Your wardrobe is a piece of you. I have a courageous personality, though I’m a little shy. My clothes reflect that. Even when I introduce myself, you get who I am from what I have on and how I am carrying myself, even before I show my knowledge and skills.”

Her work wardrobe

“I’m usually in work boots all day. Steel toe. The very big work boots. I get them from Walmart. There’s no point in wearing a skirt. I wear jeans and dress pants. I have the luxury to be all over the place. Other people in the office don’t have that flexibility. Sometimes, I wear colorful flats, nothing too bright.”

Dressing tips

Make sure you are comfortable. You have to be able to put those clothes on and be fine with it all day. Work is enough pressure.


I’m a Goodwill person. You’d be surprised at the quality of things there. A big thing that I get there is sun dresses (for after work). That’s what fills my closet. They always have jeans, and the dress slacks are like new. Sometimes I make myself buy something new. I don’t shop online. I’d rather see it, take it home, and be done with it.

P.S. Why you don’t need many clothes to be fashionable. 

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