From Legos to
custom homes, Native American students plan to use education to
help their communities
Rhines (Cherokee) first experience in construction was
with Legos, now he hopes to use his degree to create a custom
home business. (courtesy Photo)
Kyle Rhines first experience in construction was with
Legos. He loved building houses, bridges and towns so much that
his parents had to pull him away to sit at the dinner table. By
5 years old, he would build a coffee table, a doghouse and anything
else he could think of with scraps of wood his dad would give him
from project sites, where he worked rehabbing and flipping houses.
Soon, Kyle would go with him to work.
It was those early experiences that would lead Rhine, 20, to
study construction management technology at Oklahoma
State University in hopes to use his degree to create a custom
home business. But he also aspires to help increase housing and
rebuild homes for Indian communities.
My favorite thing is seeing the finished product,
Rhine said. For me, thats very satisfying, and working
with a team and everyone coming together to finish a projectseeing
were all working toward the same goal. There are a lot of
moving parts, but I like how it all comes together.
His passion and hands-on drive is what Flintco,
one of the oldest multicultural construction firms in the United
States with Native American roots, wants to cultivate and support.
Rhine (Cherokee) and Aaron Tayah (Navajo), a senior at Colorado
State University, are the first recipients of Flintcos
national scholarship program created to aid Native American students
interested in the construction industry. Partnering with the American
Indian Graduate Center (AIGC), a national nonprofit that awards
scholarships to Native American undergraduate and graduate college
students, Flintco via AIGC, awarded two full-time students $3,750
scholarships in 2016.
Both Rhine of Bixby, Okla., and Tayah of Chinle, Ariz., plan
to return to their communities to use their degrees after graduation.
Tayahs interest in the field was sparked by growing up
among tradesmen. When his mother wanted to build her own home, family
members who were carpenters, electricians and plumbers came to help.
He also used to tag along with his grandfather who was an electrician,
and he has an aunt who is Flintco project engineer.
With construction, it comes with ups and downs. Once its
all done you give it life, said Tayah, who aspires to own
a general contracting business after graduation to build schools,
hospitals and other needed facilities for the Navajo
Nation. Its very beautiful to see your family and
friends come together when youre building. From the start
to finish its very rewarding. Its all worth it.
Tayah (Navajo) is a senior at Colorado State University and
one of the first recipients of Flintcos national scholarship
created to help Native American students interested in construction.
After receiving nearly 50 applications, the Flintco reviewed
applicants essays on why the they chose to pursue a construction
management, science, engineering or construction safety degree,
along with their post-graduation plans. Applicants also were required
to supply two letters of recommendation.
Vernelle Chase, director of Flintcos Tribal Relations,
said that while the students were selected based on GPA, future
plans and support letters, Flintcos main goal was to find,
invest in and cultivate top Native American students in the industry.
Flintcos work is more than just brick and mortarwe
have a vested interest in building and mentoring Native American
students. Many of our tribal clients also like to see a full range
of Native staff and contractors, furthering pride in the community
after collectively and carefully expanding tribal structures,
The move to create Native contractors is critical because out
of nearly 3 million construction businesses in the United States,
only 35,969, or 1 percent, were owned by American Indians or Alaska
Natives, according to the 2012 U.S. Census Survey of Business Owners.
Founded in 1908 by a Native American family, Flintco has a long
track record of mentoring Native American subcontractors and implementing
proactive programs to hire and train Native Americans. Alberici
Corporation, a diversified construction company, purchased Flintco
in 2013, but continues to honor its Native American roots and history
by maintaining its commitment to tribes and Indian country. Since
1991, Flintco has completed about $300 million in construction projects
on the Navajo Nation alone, including health facilities in Kayenta
and Ft. Defiance.
Offering scholarships and full internships are some ways
to give back to partnering Native communities, Chase said.
Flintco has more than 550 employees at seven offices across
the U.S., including Albuquerque, N.M., where AIGC and Chase are
based, and has done more than $300 million in projects in Indian
country just in the past five years.
As part of the scholarship, the Native American students have
an opportunity to intern at Flintcos offices in Albuquerque,
Austin, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Springdale or Tulsa. Tayah has interned
for Flintco previously, working with a general contractor and reviewing
proposals for finishing crew subcontractors. Rhine will intern at
the companys Tulsa office working on a public school expansion
project. Tayah will intern as a project engineer aiding in the construction
of a multimillion dollar project on the Cherokee
Nation in Tahlequah, Okla.