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Business networking has been transformed by the heightened connectivity of social media and mobility—however, no platform can substitute face-to-face interaction. The Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Convention 2019 was a true testament to the power of thoughtful networking and the truth that someone’s gender doesn’t dilute their impact.

Beginning with the words of Carey Lohrenz, an accomplished navy fighter jet pilot: “If you lose sight, you lose the fight.” At the time she began her involvement with the Navy, there were laws stating women weren’t allowed employment in Navy aviation. She was given a request from leadership to leave due to these legal restrictions, and she asked them to reconsider. Based on the fact that she was historically the top of the class, she became a teacher for the men aviators until laws shifted. The moral: find another way, or someone else will. When laws passed in her favor, she chose her dream fighter jet and continues to lead the organization today.

Another speaker, Skyler Tibbets, a co-director of the MIT Department of Architecture and a leader in the focus of programmable material technologies in construction, had some thoughts I’ve never heard before. Skyler runs a research lab on the convergence of architecture and computer science. Much of his work has sought to remedy the fact that mass customization creates logistical nightmares (ex. Individual bricks that are unique that need to be fit together on a project).

In the design-to-reality spectrum that Skyler studies, an underlying theme is “If we can produce materials through better data, we can enhance construction.” With programmable materials (physical materials that have the ability to change precise form and/or function by design), we can realize the benefit of 4D printing. This entails 3D printing producing a material that transforms over time.

An example of this: a printed shape that shifts form in water. Materials naturally enact a code that transforms its shape. The focus for construction applications is being able to program any materials through different manufacturing processes. With any material property (wood, carbon, textiles) that encounters energy as an activation (electricity, heat, water), the transformation following is the idea behind 4D printing that has massive implications on the industry.

When traditional construction is not feasible, project managers must consider structures that can show potential options through self-organization/assembly. The underlying principle that grabbed me most: smarter materials can potentially replace robots. Since labor isn’t getting any cheaper, this has big significance.

An additional discussion that piqued my interest was within a “last-mile distribution” round table discussion. With pick-up utilities growing within in-store environments, many small-scale expansions in big box retail locations are taking place to accommodate facility needs. Even previous grocery stores are becoming mini-distribution centers to support this. With construction managers from Walmart and Target present, it was a compelling conversation to say the least.

One of the most valued pieces of productivity advice I held onto from the speakers was that “Tenacity is a muscle.” Every time you continue to be uncomfortable, it helps you for the next occasion. This is never flawless, however it’s critical to have the tenacity to say “I’m not good at this YET” – rather than a flat statement of weakness (“I’m not good at this”). This intrinsically sets a goal and doesn’t limit your perceived capabilities.

Overall, the content of this convention was overwhelmingly relevant, but the relationships presented were the most valuable portion. Although women are often unrepresented in construction and commercial real estate, this conference allowed me to realize you’re rarely “The only woman in the room” when you’re well-networked amongst a group of colleagues (male or female) eager to support you.

Thank you to CREW Philadelphia and CREW Network for offering me a scholarship opportunity to attend one of the most fulfilling events I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.