Woman With a Plan: Architectural Technology Graduate Building a Successful Career in Construction

Belarus native came to United States in 2009, earned degree from MATC in 2012

Mark Feldmann, feldmam1@matc.edu

May 21, 2024

Mariya Sorensen
Mariya Sorensen

While in college, I realized construction was the one thing that I wanted to do. I love the challenges that every day brings and the reward of seeing the accomplishments at the end of the project.

Mariya Sorensen Senior Integrated Construction Manager at Mortenson Construction, and MATC Architectural Technology graduate

MILWAUKEE – It’s almost impossible to think of Mariya Sorensen doing anything without a plan.

Yet there she was in the summer of 2009, arriving in the Wisconsin Dells from Belarus with $400 and her passport in her pocket, and having absolutely no idea what she was going to do after her seasonal jobs ended. 

“When I came to America, I wasn’t planning to stay. I wanted to explore, study and travel,” she said. “I had no idea what was going to happen.”

Sorensen was no ordinary summer worker in the Dells. Back in her hometown of Babruysk, she excelled in mathematics and physics in primary school and high school. She attended college in Minsk, the nation’s capital and largest city, and earned an electronics engineering technology degree from the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics.

When that summer ended, Sorensen decided to stay. She moved to Milwaukee, took a job as a waitress and found a small apartment. “For me, it was one day at a time,” she said. “I never knew if I would still be here the next day.”

She also heard about Milwaukee Area Technical College.  Almost on a whim, she enrolled in the college’s Architectural Technology program. Three years later, she earned her associate degree. 

Today, all Sorensen does is plan.

Mariya SorensenAs an award-winning, senior integrated construction manager at Mortenson Construction, Sorensen leads a six-member team that builds buildings on a screen using computer modeling, digital designing, robotics and virtual reality equipment and  then analyzes and solves potential problems before the first shovel hits the dirt.

“I like to call myself a virtual superintendent,” she said in her lightly accented English. “While in college, I realized construction was the one thing that I wanted to do. I love the challenges that every day brings and the reward of seeing the accomplishments at the end of the project.”

When she started at MATC, the soft-spoken Sorensen kept to herself, working on assignments and improving her English. “Everything was so new and so terrifying,” she recalled. “I knew that I could quit at any time, but I also knew I had come all this way and wanted to do well.”

“Mariya was initially a tentative young lady who had a lot of potential but was diligent and worked hard,” remembered Architectural Technology instructor Daniel Inyang. “She was always willing to learn and had an ability to interact well with others. She has always been an ambassador for our program, even before she graduated.” 

Under Inyang’s watchful eye, Sorensen mastered computer-aided drafting and building information modeling (BIM) with Autodesk Revit, a software used by architects and structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers.

“Daniel’s classes had the biggest impact on me,” she said. “I wouldn’t be working in construction if it wasn’t for him.”

After earning her degree in 2012, Sorensen took a job as a drafter at a local roofing company. She then became an engineer and an estimator. In 2017, she took a job on Mortenson’s virtual design and construction team. 

Founded in 1954 in Minneapolis, Mortenson Construction has built almost 250 entertainment and sports venues in the United States, including Fiserv Forum, home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. In Milwaukee, Mortenson is best known for constructing healthcare facilities.

Sorensen has worked on many projects, including the Dwight and Dian Diercks Computational Science Hall at the Milwaukee School of Engineering; The Art Preserve, an art museum and a satellite campus of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan; and The Center for Advanced Care at Froedtert Hospital Campus.

Her meticulous work has been widely praised: She won a Mortenson Pinnacle Award in 2018 and 2023. In 2019, she was named an outstanding woman in construction by the Daily Reporter, which covers the construction and development industry in Wisconsin.

“Mariya’s persistence and passion for driving innovation helps her and her team meet new challenges and achieve innovative success,” Mark Peterson, an integrated construction manager at Mortenson, said in 2019. “Mariya helps the team think ahead, plan smarter and leverage technology to improve our construction processes.”

Sorensen is also committed to getting more women into construction and other science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. She is involved in empowHER, a national group that supports, advocates and recruits women in the construction industry, and frequently speaks to high school girls and college women.

She was a guest presenter at MATC two years ago, Inyang said. “The students were so impressed that one of them said ‘she blew my mind’ with the level and quality of the advance work she was doing as a program graduate,” he said.

“The more women we have, the easier it will be for them to stay in the industry,” Sorensen said. “We need to expose girls as early as possible to the opportunities that are there for them. Show them what they would be like working in the industry. As a leader in a culture where I have been allowed to thrive, I feel like I have more of an impact. My hope is that I can be a role model to them.”

Learn about MATC’s Architectural Technology program

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 30,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.