Alumni Spotlight: Rachel Runnels-Caldwell

Rachel Runnels-Caldwell posed in the woods with her graduation cap and gown and a white dress on.

The right job at the right time can make all the difference in a person’s life. This seems to be the case for 2019 UA Little Rock construction management graduate, Rachel Runnels-Caldwell. For Rachel, this job was a project accountant position for CDI Contractors.

Rachel grew up in Perryville, Arkansas then first entered college with an interest in nursing at Arkansas State University. After a short time there, she returned to Little Rock and started working at CDI Contractors. She worked hard at CDI and found herself moving up in the company.

At CDI Contractors, Rachel started as a project accountant in 2013. She was hired by her uncle, Tommy Runnels, who was a superintendent with the company to work on the Pulaski Tech Fine Arts & Humanities building. “I had just turned 19 when I started at CDI and was eager to learn more than just what was required of me, and I believe that is still the case today,” she says. She learned industry processes from Tommy, Glenn Caldwell, the assistant superintendent and Landon Voigt, the project engineer.  “I loved seeing everything that went into a project that large, and learning and being involved in all of the coordination that went into making the finished product.” A UA Little Rock construction management graduate himself, Landon told Rachel about how far she could go with a degree.

Starting Over at Pulaski Tech

After being introduced to bringing a project to life, hearing the potential of the industry and saving for a couple of years, Rachel started studying construction management at Pulaski Tech in the summer of 2016. By going to Pulaski Tech she was able to save some money and focus on a majority of her general education courses. She went from not having the best transcript at ASU to graduating with a 4.0 GPA from Pulaski Tech.  Rachel started communicating with Professor Mike Tramel, then chair of the construction management department. He helped her plan her classes at Pulaski Tech in the most effective way possible. This was a common practice then. Taking every summer class she could, she was able to transfer to UA Little Rock in the summer of 2018.

During her transfer to UA Little Rock, there were still a few hiccups. With the help of Professor Tramel, Dr. Hank Bray (present chair) and Professor Chris Ray, she was able to complete her bachelor’s degree in her goal time frame though.  “Rachel was an excellent student who not only brought her intellect into the classroom but her practical work experience as well,” reflects Tramel. “She always engaged in class discussion. I enjoyed her questions and inquisitive approach to problem solving.  She was a team player and always willing to assist others when needed.”

Rachel Does the Unimaginable

While it is common to work through college, Rachel was able to do something rather unusual in today’s collegiate scene. She graduated with no student debt. Though Rachel was an impressive student, Dr. Bray notes that her “most impressive accomplishment was working her way through school and graduating without student debt.”  By saving for a couple of years in her position at CDI, and working often more than 40 hours a week while in school, she was able to attend college without any student loans. 

Though it may seem impossible, Rachel even participated in a long list of extracurricular activities at UA Little Rock. She served as a board member of the EIT Student Leadership Board and was a member of many organizations. Other organizations she was affiliated with included  AGC Future Leaders, Sigma Kappa Delta, Phi Theta Kappa, ABC Young Professionals, Green Built Alliance, US Green Building Council, ASHE Young Professionals and Sigma Lambda Chi

Where is She Now?

Before leaving CDI in 2019, a Senior Project Manager pointed out to her that when she “first started out he never knew (she) would go this far, actually didn’t think at first that (she)’d be anything other than a project accountant, and he didn’t think there was anything that could stop (her) now.” Rachel has been working with Fintco since May of 2019 and graduated with a bachelor of science in construction management in December of 2019 from UA Little Rock. At the time of her graduation, Rachel already had 6 years of industry experience. She is currently a project engineer for the Oaklawn Casino Expansion project in Hot Springs, Arkansas. She is scheduled to work on upcoming projects with Flintco in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

With determination and a willingness to explore something new, Rachel has become a leader in the construction industry. “I knew that she would become an asset to the construction industry with her dedication, commitment, and leadership qualities,” says Tramel.  We are proud to have her as an alumna and look forward to witnessing her continued success.


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