If you tell Aalayha Robb ’20 that she can’t do something, be prepared for a reckoning. “I’m the type of person who enjoys a challenge," she says. "Coming up against adversity lights a fire for me and pushes me to succeed."
That fire was sparked as Robb approached her education. As the first in her family to attend college, Robb was conscious of the fact that her two younger siblings would watch what she did and that earning her degree would set an example.
From the moment she arrived at the U of M, she wasted no time in diving into a full course load. Having nurtured a passion for interior design and architecture from a young age, Robb knew she wanted to major in architecture. But as she flew through the courses and completed requirements far ahead of schedule, she asked herself what else she could study.
“I just wanted more and more,” Robb says. “I have an appetite for learning, and I was interested in adding something more hands-on to my design-focused architecture major. Basically, I wanted to make the cake and eat it too.”
So Robb added a major in construction management—an area of study that would allow her to implement and actually manage the building process, bringing a set of blueprints to life.
But as she began taking courses, Robb realized that many of her classmates were males raised in families where construction expertise was passed down from father to son. She recalls how visceral the challenge seemed to her early on: as a first-generation college student and woman of color who didn’t have any background in construction, Robb felt that inner fire ignite anew.
“Careers in the built environment are very male-dominated, and I noticed that disparity was reflected in the classroom, too,” she says. “I thought to myself, ‘I need to be here, not just for myself but to make a statement in the industry.’”
By the time Robb was finishing her final courses, she had become known among her classmates for her strong grasp of construction principles as well as her positive attitude, which made her a top pick when it came to group projects.
“I thought, ‘I don’t have to prove myself anymore,’” Robb says. “People can tell you a million times that you’re fine, you got this. But until you feel it, it doesn’t matter. I had my moment. I got this.”
As she neared graduation in 2020, Robb received job offers from three construction firms in the metro area, and one was her number-one choice—a full-time position with Knutson Construction as a Virtual Design in Construction Specialist.
“I just want other women and women of color to know that they can do this, too,” Robb says. “Just know that with determination and passion, anybody can do it. I promise it’s possible.”
- Architecture and Design