Student News

Second career, new beginning

From fashion design to construction, one Dunwoody student is pursuing her dreams

Kia Arendt always wanted to create, to build, and to make things better. Now about to get her degree in Construction Project Management from Dunwoody, she is close to making that goal a reality.

It has been a long journey for the Zumbrota, Minnesota, native and one that has had some twists along the way.

A first career

Growing up, Arendt moved around a lot—from Zumbrota to Red Wing and then Roberts, Wisconsin, for high school, where she attended St. Croix Central.

After high school, Arendt moved to Minneapolis and attended the University of Minnesota for three years before transferring to the Art Institute and earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design in 2016.

The first in her family to graduate college, Arendt worked as a product designer for three years before a tragedy changed her life and her direction.

“When my mom died of cancer, I knew it was time for a change,” Arendt said. “So I took time to ponder the meaning of life. I thought about if I was happy and what I wanted.”

So she got a job managing a barber shop in Minneapolis, where she met some great people who persuaded her to go back to school after COVID hit.

“I was always interested in building and constructing, but I didn’t think I could do it,” Arendt said. “I was just a silly girl with a fashion degree. But in the end, I can’t make excuses for myself. I needed to invest in myself, go back to school and do something I always wanted.”

A growing interest

Arendt’s interest in construction was first apparent when she built tree houses with her siblings growing up. As she got older that interest grew. 

“Growing up, we were always very creative kids,” she recalls. “I wanted to create, and build, and make things better. I was very interested in how things work. How you could start with an idea and end with an actual built structure.”

During her career in product design, Arendt got to put those interests and talents to work when her department managed the redesign of a design studio.

“I got to be in charge of the whole project,” she said. “It was the most rewarding and fun experience I ever had. It made me really excited to get into that.”

A new beginning

Once she had made up her mind to pursue her passion, Arendt started researching a handful of schools.

“Dunwoody had the best reputation and placement rates, along with rave reviews,” she said. “This is the fourth university or college I’ve been to, and it has been the best I’ve ever attended.

“Everyone has been so helpful. I feel like they truly care about the education I get, and it means more to me than I ever imagined.”

But attending Dunwoody would not have been possible without the scholarship support she received from the Schulze Family Foundation.

“Receiving the Richard M. Schulze Scholarship is 100 percent the reason I am able to attend Dunwoody right now,” Arendt said. “The past year, being as crazy as it was, I knew I couldn’t take another big financial hit. So I was really on the fence about investing in myself. Getting this scholarship meant the world to me. Without it I wouldn’t be able to be here, and I’m eternally grateful. It makes me so happy to know there are people out there who are willing to invest in strangers and their futures. I hope to pay it forward someday.”

A bright future

Arendt is graduating this May with a Certificate in Construction Project Management, allowing her to quickly move into the construction field.

“My goal is to acquire an internship at a company,” she said. “I want to start at the bottom so I can learn everything from the ground up. I want to know everything there is about the field.”

That intense sense of curiosity has always been a driving force in Arendt’s life. She even drives around the Twin Cities looking at all of the buildings under construction.

And during her courses, Arendt not only loves learning new things, but then applying that knowledge in real life.

“I really like being able to break things down and understand why we are doing something and the way things work,” she said. “That way I know what is coming next. And the faculty have been amazing. They have been so helpful. Their experience in the field has been so evident. They don’t just give you the answer. It’s been so refreshing and so different than what I’m used to.”

Being a woman in a field that is filled with mostly men can be challenging, and Arendt said she has already had people in her circle who have questioned her career choice.

“Everyone’s reaction was that was a man’s job,” she said. “But I want to make cities too. And in the end they have been supportive because they knew I wouldn’t be doing it if I wasn’t passionate about it.”

Arendt plans to work in commercial construction because she is fascinated with big buildings and the construction process behind them.  She also wants to work at a company where she can grow professionally over time. “I want to be someplace where I can be for the life of my career. I take pride in where I work, that’s really big for me,” she said.

She also loves the entire process of managing a project from start to finish.

“Solving problems in one of my all-time favorite things,” Arendt said. “And that’s a lot of what being a construction project manager is.”