Kristina Benza Blazes her Trail with STEM Career
Her difficult junior high AP calculus class and teacher proved valuable years later.
“He gave us test problems we’d never seen before with the philosophy ‘you’re taking notes in class and gathering tools needed to solve a problem,’” Kristina Benza said.
That lesson stayed with her, and today the 26-year-old continues to problem-solve as president of County Fabricators, LLC, in Pleasantville, NY. Her LEGO® display in the reception area is indicative of the put-together kits she played with as a child in-between making her own inventions.
“She had an incredible appetite for how things worked,” her uncle Philip Benza said, noting she built a working elevator for a school science project.
Benza earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in science and was one of the first recipients of the Louis G. Nappi Construction Labor-Management Scholarship for students interested in applied science, math and engineering.
The Rockland County Times recently spoke with Benza about women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), running a company and setting examples.
How do you feel about heading your own company?
Every day has its own challenge. A lot of times I feel I jumped into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with no life preserver and a rudimentary understanding of how to swim.
My family’s been involved with civil construction, and I grew up learning and studying, working on whatever project they were doing. There’s a gravitational pull to this industry, and it’s been a great learning experience. I’m thankful for a great staff (eight employees).
How did you win bids for the bridge project?
I bought into County Fabricators in December 2013 knowing about the Tappan Zee project and what was going on with the Bayonne Bridge and Goethals Bridge (both in Staten Island) and other infrastructure projects in the area when I made my decision. I saw a really great opportunity, and I seized it.
It took persistence with help from my uncle’s construction connections. Our first bridge project was in late 2013, and once I proved to others the quality of the work we’re capable of doing, and the relationship grew from there.
About 65 percent of our work is TZC-related, and we have completed roughly 100 purchase orders for the project. We bid on everything we do and spend a lot of time estimating projects.
What types of jobs has your company performed on the project?
County Fabricators made the blue access platform — where iron workers will do all their rigging and to make the connections once the girders are in place — that hangs from the super crane’s boom.
We fabricated the electrical conduit supports for the approach spans, the first set of which has already been installed on the girders in the TZC yard in Coeymans, NY.
We are strictly a vendor so we get purchase orders for temporary work (things they are using to help them build the bridge) and permanent work (the conduit supports that will be part of the bridge forever).
Did you intend to get a masters degree in science?
I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with life after college and was always gong to some kind of graduate education. I did toy for a long time with getting my PhD and got my degree in comprehensive sciences as my major in college because I couldn’t choose one discipline and wanted to take many classes, gravitating toward math. I use that a lot here. It’s a big part of what we do.
“Kristina is a math wizard and can apply the book knowledge to actual applications,” Philip Benza said. “She knows how to read complex engineering drawings, understands AutoCAD and can do AutoCAD drawings, etc.
Who were your influences?
My dad was self-made, my uncle is self-made. I grew up around that and admire people who took something small and turned it into something big. I loved hearing stories, even now, stories of people like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie who came from humble beginnings and persevered even if they heard “no” a hundred times, people who are trailblazers.
Her father and uncle, Robert and Philip Benza, started County Fabricators, a 7,000-square-foot facility on Marble Avenue. They also owned and operated Arben Group LLC, a civil infrastructure contracting company in Pleasantville.
You might be a trailblazer for young women in school studying STEM.
I hope so. I have two younger sisters and heard “you need to set the example,” and do a lot of things with that subconsciously in mind: some day somebody might look up to me or want to emulate me.
I think it’s very important to continue to push for more women in STEM, and I am happy to be one of them. TZC is a great customer to work for and work with and employs lots of female engineers.
I went to the American Institute of Steel Construction conference in Nashville (March 2015) and saw women getting involved, strong women, empowered women, who have really important jobs and a lot of responsibility. That to me is exciting.
What would you tell someone in school aspiring to a specific field or career?
I would say go for it. Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game. Don’t be afraid of failing because you’re going to fail. You fall down nine times, you stand up 10 (times).
The biggest and most important lesson my parents instilled in me is if you commit to something, even if you realize halfway through you don’t like it, then you have to see through your commitment. I think it pertains to everything.
What lasting impression would you like people to have of your work?
We pride ourselves in the quality of our work and the service we give our customers. We establish a relationship with them, understand why we’re building what we’re building, what it will be used for, and ask if we can tweak the design so it satisfies the customer’s needs better. I don’t want anything to leave here that I’m not proud to have my name on.
I hope that 100 years from now when people are still driving over the bridge — I think about the fact that people will be driving over my work in theory long after I’m gone — and that my kids and family will say, “Wow!”
My article originally appeared in the Rockland County Times June 25, 2015.
Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2015