Woman, mother, daughter, neighbor, African-American, mentor, left-hander, project manager, Chicagoan. These are but a few of the many things that describe Antonia Winfrey.
The Chicago native grew up by way of the North Lawndale community where she still resides today with her husband and 17-month-old son, Rudy. Though Winfrey’s mother had hopes of her becoming a doctor, Winfrey took her talents for math, science and art in a direction that was the best fit for her.
Early on, Winfrey spent ample time alongside her mother at Barnes & Noble reading up on how to perform maintenance needs for a building her mother owned. The two executed the work, often through trial and error. In short, Winfrey quickly became very handy.
Winfrey graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a B.S. in Industrial Technology with a concentration in Construction, but without actual job site experience. After a stint with an airline catering company, Winfrey found herself at the door of a job site trailer in an alley of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. There, Chicago-based construction company F.H. Paschen, was in the middle of work on the CTA Brown Line.
Both apprehensive and excited, Winfrey entered the job trailer, taking the first step to what would become a career path with endless opportunities. In her 12 years at Paschen, she has grown from Project Engineer to Project Manager and now works with the company’s Preferred Projects Group. Her role even expanded beyond the job site to include the title of Liaison to high school students from Chicago’s George Westinghouse College Prep. Through the F.H. Paschen Scholars program, Winfrey works with CPS students accepted to the program to further S.T.E.M. skills and opportunities.
“To show them that someone that looks like them, can do what I do, is an important thing. It shows that it’s an option for them,” said Winfrey. “A majority of these students are minorities so seeing someone different performing these tasks is refreshing. I’m a Black female in construction but that’s not the main focus for them and that’s not all that I am. They see that you’re more than just one thing. You’re more than just skin deep. You’re more.”
Winfrey encourages the scholars to achieve their goals, never letting them think that a dream front-and-center in their minds, should take a back seat as a priority.
F.H. Paschen Scholar, Diana Mendoza, stated in an article on womenyoushouldknow.net, “I can’t express my gratitude for the people who put this program together — and that they saw the potential in me to be great, even when I did not yet see it in myself. Often, I still cannot believe it.”