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BCT student Erin Beaty making a big transition to tiny home construction

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Erin Beaty is making the transition from engineer to design and construction company owner.

Erin Beaty is making the transition from engineer to design company owner.

Erin Beaty, fresh off of earning a bachelor’s degree in Bioengineering from Oregon State University, was working in the global manufacturing unit of a respected company.

But the Southeast Portland native and a Franklin High School graduate yearned to switch careers. She wanted to use her hands and math and geometry skills, as well as work outside. After a decade in her job, she made the decision to enroll in Portland Community College’s Building Construction Technology Program to reach her dreams.

“I got really excited about certain BCT classes, like ‘Floor Framing’ and ‘Finished Stair Construction,’” she remembered. “I took the prerequisite ‘Hand and Power Tool Safety’ class and I was hooked. I feel I’m going to have a really cool career.”

Erin Beaty cutting wood.
Construction at PCC

Beaty, who is in her third year at PCC, is now aiming to make the transition from engineer to design company owner. She said she dreams of designing tiny homes in the winter and getting outside to construct them in the summers. A dream that started when she converted her garage into a tiny home in 2017, which has become her house.

“It’s like putting together a puzzle,” Beaty said of the tiny home construction process. “You figure out sizes and dimensions beforehand on a computer, and then go into the field and piece it together. In Southeast Portland, there are a lot of detached small garages that I would love to turn into tiny homes. There’s like a million-and-a-half unfinished garages that everyone just parks in front of, but not in them.”

The BCT Program turned out to be a perfect choice for her. It consists of three certificate or degree options that provide specialized training in building construction, construction management and design/build remodeling. Students from different backgrounds can participate in cooperative education by receiving credit for on-the-job experience. BCT has a functioning garage and a 10,000-square-foot shop at the Rock Creek Campus where instructors simulate job sites.

“Once students go through the whole program, they’ve really more or less built a tiny house from top to bottom,” said BCT instructor Kris Cowan.

Despite providing remote instruction due to the pandemic, the program will offer a limited number of hands-on classes for fall term, including Beaty’s favorite entry course “Hand and Power Tool Safety.” During the move to remote learning, she stayed busy by enrolling in online classes that have been valuable to her major, including “Overview of Construction,” “Construction Estimating’ and “Construction Project Management.” As a result, Beaty is on target to graduate next spring.

In a male-dominated field, she isn’t concerned about how coworkers or fellow students view her gender. Beaty said she’s seeing more and more women in her classes and on job sites. If you can learn the material and do the job, building construction doesn’t care who you are, she added.

“The material didn’t ask if I was a woman or not,” she explained. “I feel like we’re just folks out there trying to get the job done.”

Beaty wants to make a difference in the housing and climate crises by building space-efficient housing.

Beaty wants to make a difference in the housing and climate crises by building space-efficient housing.

BCT’s welcoming environment combined with its robust industry advisory board, students get the support and the latest training required by companies. Cowan said they’ve added new classes in the last 18 months because of the board’s recommendations – classes that will enable graduates to seamlessly enter an industry that is a major driver of the U.S. economy.

“Construction trades is one of the highest-demand fields right now and we’re keeping up with what the industry needs,” Cowan explained. “We have alumni who have started their own businesses. So, it’s a pretty fulfilling career choice.”

Beaty agrees as she ventures into the world of tiny home construction. But this career change is not just about skill development.

“My lifestyle has changed quite a bit from leaving that job and living in a smaller space,” Beaty said. “I find it to be a pretty positive change because of the impacts small spaces can have on housing and society. We have housing and climate crises, and I feel like I could be busy for years to come.”

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, is the Public Relations Manager at Portland Community College. A graduate of Portland State University, James has worked as a section editor for the Newberg Graphic, Wo... more »

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x by Brad Fox 1 year ago

Great article Erin. You and all the students in the BCT program are so great. I really appreciate working with you. This is so cool to see you in this article.

x by Colin Watson 1 year ago

Great to see your success story Erin.

It still has, for sure, a long and happy way to go. Our first joint class with Nancy, I remember, was where the quiet, calm and confident student introduced her ‘Tiny House Project’ to class with a humorous sparkle in her eye. You have developed into quite the caring professional which is not at all surprising, I’m happy to say.

I hope we at PCC (students and faculty alike) can all share with you, your story and follow your future progress, what will become of you … with interest. Take care. All the best. Colin

x by Kevin McBride 1 year ago

Congrats Erin, an inspiration to us all!

x by Jess 1 year ago

Great! How do we contact/hire her?

x by erin 1 year ago

Thank you everyone for the kind words.
I’m so grateful for the endless support from you all along this journey. Can’t wait to see where it goes! ?☺️


x by Barbara 1 year ago

Great story! I love your work, Erin :)

x by Peter Gramlich 1 year ago

Thanks for featuring the very talented and driven Erin, James. We in the Architecture program know she’s got a bright future (and present), and are proud to have been a stopping-off point on her journey. Southeast Portland needs your touch with small homes, Erin! Good luck!

x by Aaron Barksdale 1 year ago

So great to see Erin highlighted in this article! She is a hard worker and fun to be around. If you see this Erin good luck on your adventure and congrats!