A pioneering civil engineer now oversees WCU’s construction management program


The only woman to head a college or university construction management department in the United States has joined the Western Carolina faculty as the first Joe W. Kimmel Distinguished Professor of Construction Management. J.K. Yates began her duties as Kimmel Professor and head of WCU’s Department of Construction Management in June.

Yates’ interest in the construction field goes all the way back to her high school days, when she worked as an unpaid intern for an architect. “I started out in architecture because I thought architects were the ones who built structures, and I designed two houses in high school that were built,” Yates said. One of the houses became the home of a physician, and the other was built for an opera singer. “When I look back on it now, it seems really amazing to me that I was able to do that at that age,” she said.

J.K. Yates visits the construction materials lab in the Kimmel School.

A native of Coos Bay, Ore., Yates earned her undergraduate degree in civil engineering at the University of Washington. As a graduate student at Texas A&M University, she became the first woman in the world to receive a doctoral degree in civil engineering with a concentration in construction engineering and management.

Before joining the WCU faculty, Yates served as chair and professor in the Department of Construction Management and Engineering at North Dakota State University, and her previous work included developing the construction engineering graduate program at San Jose State University, which was the largest construction engineering graduate program in the world for a decade.

The author of 10 books on engineering and construction, Yates also has worked for a variety of engineering and construction firms in the United States and overseas. Her most difficult project was working on a liquefied natural gas plant in the jungles of Borneo, Indonesia. “Being totally immersed in the culture of a developing country where everything is completely the opposite of what you are used to irrevocably changes your perspective on life,” she said.

Yates was honored in late summer as the Construction Industry Institute’s “Distinguished Professor for 2010” at the institute’s annual conference in Orlando, Fla. Linda Seestedt-Stanford, WCU’s interim provost, said Yates is a valuable addition to the university. “Dr. Yates is a world-renowned engineer, author and researcher, but what struck me most when I talked with her at her interview visit was her passion for teaching,” Seestedt-Stanford said. “She shared many stories about her students and their accomplishments. We are very fortunate to have Dr. Yates in the Kimmel Professorship.”

WCU’s Joe W. Kimmel Distinguished Professorship in Construction Management was endowed in 2006 through gifts provided by Asheville businessman Joe W. Kimmel and matching state funds allocated through a program initiated by the General Assembly to encourage private support of public institutions of higher education.