Kyle Rhine’s first experience in construction was with Legos. He loved building houses, bridges and towns so much that his parents had to pull him away to sit at the dinner table. By 5 years old, he would build a coffee table, a doghouse and anything else he could think of with scraps of wood his dad would give him from project sites, where he worked rehabbing and flipping houses. Soon, Kyle would go with him to work.
It was those early experiences that would lead Rhine, 20, to study construction management technology at Oklahoma State University in hopes to use his degree to create a custom home business. But he also aspires to help increase housing and rebuild homes for Indian communities.
“My favorite thing is seeing the finished product,” Rhine said. “For me, that’s very satisfying, and working with a team and everyone coming together to finish a project—seeing we’re all working toward the same goal. There are a lot of moving parts, but I like how it all comes together.”
His passion and hands-on drive is what Flintco, one of the oldest multicultural construction firms in the United States with Native American roots, wants to cultivate and support.
Rhine (Cherokee) and Aaron Tayah (Navajo), a senior at Colorado State University, are the first recipients of Flintco’s national scholarship program created to aid Native American students interested in the construction industry. Partnering with the American Indian Graduate Center (AIGC), a national nonprofit that awards scholarships to Native American undergraduate and graduate college students, Flintco via AIGC, awarded two full-time students $3,750 scholarships in 2016.
Both Rhine of Bixby, Okla., and Tayah of Chinle, Ariz., plan to return to their communities to use their degrees after graduation.
Tayah’s interest in the field was sparked by growing up among tradesmen. When his mother wanted to build her own home, family members who were carpenters, electricians and plumbers came to help. He also used to tag along with his grandfather who was an electrician, and he has an aunt who is Flintco project engineer.
“With construction, it comes with ups and downs. Once it’s all done you give it life,” said Tayah, who aspires to own a general contracting business after graduation to build schools, hospitals and other needed facilities for the Navajo Nation. “It’s very beautiful to see your family and friends come together when you’re building. From the start to finish it’s very rewarding. It’s all worth it.”
After receiving nearly 50 applications, the Flintco reviewed applicants’ essays on why the they chose to pursue a construction management, science, engineering or construction safety degree, along with their post-graduation plans. Applicants also were required to supply two letters of recommendation.
Vernelle Chase, director of Flintco’s Tribal Relations, said that while the students were selected based on GPA, future plans and support letters, Flintco’s main goal was to find, invest in and cultivate top Native American students in the industry.
“Flintco’s work is more than just brick and mortar—we have a vested interest in building and mentoring Native American students. Many of our tribal clients also like to see a full range of Native staff and contractors, furthering pride in the community after collectively and carefully expanding tribal structures,” said Chase.
The move to create Native contractors is critical because out of nearly 3 million construction businesses in the United States, only 35,969, or 1 percent, were owned by American Indians or Alaska Natives, according to the 2012 U.S. Census Survey of Business Owners.
Founded in 1908 by a Native American family, Flintco has a long track record of mentoring Native American subcontractors and implementing proactive programs to hire and train Native Americans. Alberici Corporation, a diversified construction company, purchased Flintco in 2013, but continues to honor its Native American roots and history by maintaining its commitment to tribes and Indian country. Since 1991, Flintco has completed about $300 million in construction projects on the Navajo Nation alone, including health facilities in Kayenta and Ft. Defiance.
“Offering scholarships and full internships are some ways to give back to partnering Native communities,” Chase said.
Flintco has more than 550 employees at seven offices across the U.S., including Albuquerque, N.M., where AIGC and Chase are based, and has done more than $300 million in projects in Indian country just in the past five years.
As part of the scholarship, the Native American students have an opportunity to intern at Flintco’s offices in Albuquerque, Austin, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Springdale or Tulsa. Tayah has interned for Flintco previously, working with a general contractor and reviewing proposals for finishing crew subcontractors. Rhine will intern at the company’s Tulsa office working on a public school expansion project. Tayah will intern as a project engineer aiding in the construction of a multimillion dollar project on the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Okla.