Samantha Hand Fratus

“I was always a little nervous that I was missing something. I wanted to go back and fill in the gaps in my very informal education."

When Samantha Hand Fratus was an undergraduate at Wellesley College, she never imagined that she would one day be a Construction Project Manager with a master’s degree in Construction Engineering and Management. “I always thought I was interested in art and architecture.” Then, while she was working at the Harvard Art Museum, a chance encounter inspired her to consider a new direction. “I got interested in the construction that was going on above my office,” she recalls. “It just sounded so much more interesting than what was going on in my office.” She soon convinced the same construction company to hire her for an entry-level position.

Later, Samantha decided it was time to make an investment in her new career by going back to school. “I was always a little nervous that I was missing something,” she recalls. “I wanted to go back and fill in the gaps in my very informal education.”

During her first year in her University of Michigan master’s program, Samantha applied for a scholarship from the Center for the Education of Women. “The letter came,” she recalls, “and I almost fell off my chair. I had gotten a pretty sizeable grant!” Samantha was awarded the 2004 Irma M. Wyman Scholarship, which not only helped her cover the costs of her education, but also began a lifelong relationship with Irma herself.

“Irma’s just amazing,” says Samantha. “She and her friend Denny were the first two female graduates from the Engineering program at the University of Michigan. They had to go into the Student Union through the side door. I think one of her professors called Irma’s mother and said, ‘This is ridiculous. You should never allow your daughter to go into Engineering.’ Irma’s stories are incredible.”

Samantha enjoyed her time at Michigan as a non-traditional student. “My work experience definitely helped me get more out of my education,” she remembers. She liked mentoring other students and talking with professors who shared her experiences. “It was fun – still a lot of work, but I loved it! I used to wake up in the morning and feel like, ‘I can’t believe this is my life.’”

“Overall, I graduated with even more than I would have expected in terms of renewed self-confidence, going back into a field that I previously had been ‘seat of the pants’ with. I felt like I had a really good foundation and I could move forward. I was inspired by the people I met, especially people like Irma. I thought the Engineering program was fabulous, and my most continuing relationship with the university is with the Center for the Education of Women, which I think is great!”