“I’m going to go here, and I’m going to build something here.”
That’s what Jesica Galloway Johnson told her father when they came to Clemson from nearby Walhalla for football games as she was growing up.
“Papa used to drive us around town when we were little and say, ‘You know, I built this,’” she recalled. “In Walhalla, or Seneca or Clemson, I can take you to neighborhoods that my family has built, apartments that they’ve built, and I think, there’s a piece of Galloway sitting there.”
When it was time for college, Clemson University was the only school to which she applied. But her choice of major wasn’t quite as clear.
“I wanted to do civil engineering because I thought that was as close to construction as I could get,” she said. “I didn’t even realize there was a construction science and management (CSM) program until I started looking through Clemson majors and I saw it, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
Her decision to pursue construction science and management put her on a path that few other women were on, a reality she understood from the beginning.
“Even back in the summers working with my father, I would say, ‘Hey, why do no women do this?’ The answer was, ‘They just don’t,’” she recalled. Still, she drew inspiration from her mother and from Christine Piper, a former professor in the Nieri Family Department of Construction Science & Management.
“She portrayed herself and carried herself in a way that I learned from,” Johnson said of Piper, adding that Piper modeled how to respond to gender-based stereotypes. “She was actually invited to my wedding; that’s how big an impact she made.”
As an undergraduate, Johnson became active in the Clemson University Construction Women group, serving in multiple leadership roles, including president. As she moved through the University and into her career, Johnson followed the advice of her mother.
“The saying with my mother was always, ‘Kill them with competence,’” Johnson said. “You know what you know, you know that you know it, so don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t know it.”
After graduation from Clemson, Johnson had her pick of job offers, and went to work for Skanska USA Building Inc., working on major projects in and around Atlanta such as the Concourse T Expansion at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport and the Mercedes-Benz USA headquarters in Sandy Springs.
“I knew I wanted to go to a big city, coming from a small mountain town,” she said. “To become what I wanted to become, I had to get out.”
After three years at Skanska, she moved to a new position with Holder Construction Group, which has managed the construction of several Clemson University projects, including the new Daniel Hall Renovation and Expansion. As her work began to involve preconstruction purchasing for the project, she saw a chance to return to Clemson. A phone call with Derek Bindewald ’14, also a CSM graduate, opened the door.
Derek Bindewald, Clemson Class of 2014 and Jesica Johnson, Class of 2016, are project manager and project engineer, respectively, on the Daniel Hall Renovation and Expansion project. Both are alumni of the Nieri Family Department of Construction Science and Management.
“I was slated to come and manage this project, and we were building the team, and we were struggling to find an engineer,” Bindewald recounted. “Jesi and I discussed her transitioning to join the on-site team, and within an hour I’m getting calls from our leadership saying, ‘How do you feel about Jesi coming to the project?’”
“Within an hour, I was switched over to Operations and was headed to Clemson,” Jesica said.
For both alumni, working at their alma mater is a special experience.
“We can hear the band practicing every afternoon from our trailer,” Bindewald said. “In the afternoons when we’re bogged down with things, we’ll just poke our head out for a little bit, get a breath of fresh air and hear Tiger Rag playing.”
When Johnson describes the Daniel Hall project—from its deep foundations to the state-of-the-art electrochromic windows—her excitement is palpable. She is proud of the fact that the building is set to serve almost every undergraduate student at Clemson at some point, and she remembers her own classes there.
But above all, she knows that this project is a promise kept to her dad.
“When I got the opportunity, it just brought all that back,” she said, referring to her conversations with her parents about construction. “It’s just amazing, and I’m very grateful and blessed to have the opportunity. It’s obviously very close and dear to me.”
She has been staying with her family during the project, a sign of how much her return to Clemson has brought her journey full circle.
“I get kind of emotional talking about it, because it’s literally a dream come true.”
Photographs and material from Clemson University College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities used by permission.