For Sarah Hernandez, The Korte Company made her American dream come true

Sarah Hernandez showed up to her first interview with The Korte Company in workout clothes. She didn’t plan it that way. She just happened to be on the treadmill when Brett Droy and Mike Tubbs called her.

She can still remember their exact words: “They said, ‘Hey, we’re in town. Want to meet us at the Starbucks at Tinker Air Force Base?’”

Most people would probably ask to reschedule. But not Sarah.

After a lifetime of adversity, she wasn’t about to let a professional opportunity slip away just because the timing wasn’t ideal.

“I had a button-up in my car, but I still had my workout pants on. My hair was pulled back in this sweaty ponytail. I don’t think they noticed, though. They had on work boots covered in dust. I didn’t feel too bad. I ‘glistened’ the whole interview,” she said with a laugh.

Over three big cups of strong black coffee, the trio talked about her future. They’d first seen her scraping up old epoxy flooring with her father, a paint subcontractor, on a Korte job site. 

“They knew I had the work ethic,” she recalled. “They said, ‘Oh, you don’t need a degree. You just need to be smart. You just need common sense.”

They chatted for over an hour about joining The Korte Company as a project engineer. As they explained the job duties, Sarah considered her own reservations. For one thing, she’d always told herself she didn’t want to work in construction. And even though they said paper credentials didn’t matter, she still had some hang-ups about dropping out of college — not because she’d been a bad student, but because she’d left to work three jobs and help support her own family. 

But something about talking to Brett and Mike inspired her. Sure, she didn’t have a degree, but she knew she was hard-working and smart. 

When they invited her to a follow-up, she agreed.

“When I went into my second interview, I remember thinking, ‘I’ve done a lot and come a very long way. I’ve faced many, many challenges in my life. I can for sure run a construction project.”

That grit came through loud and clear.

She got the job.

Construction? Really?

If childhood Sarah could meet today’s Sarah, she’d be surprised. 

After all, she spent a lot of her childhood helping her father with his paint company. 

And she resented almost every minute of it.

“My parents didn’t do daycare or anything like that. After school, we’d always go to job sites — clean up, help with this, help with that. It was draining. I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this.’” 

For as long as she could remember, she dreamt of another life — one far from construction sites. So did her brother, Jonathan. 

“When I went off to college, I was like, ‘I want to do something completely different than what my dad’s doing.’ And my brother was the same way. We both wanted to be doctors. And we both ended up in construction.”

It makes her laugh now. Her brother now runs their father’s company, Tedco Enterprise. But Sarah’s story is a bit more complicated.

While studying biology at the University of Oklahoma, she also juggled multiple jobs to pay tuition and rent. In between classes, she worked as a translator for a furniture shop, waitressed at a steakhouse and picked up night shifts bartending. 

But the schedule was exhausting, and she stepped back from her studies to focus on getting her finances in order. This also included helping out her family in every way possible — which meant working beside her father on a Korte job site at Tinker Air Force Base. (Also, Plains Memorial Hospital and Four Seasons Vail)

This was the job where Brett would first witness her work ethic. 

This was the job that would change her life forever.

She started as a project engineer in 2019. She and her husband Daivy, an Air Force veteran, moved to Las Vegas for her first assignment with The Korte Company: the 56,000-square-foot Deer Springs Village Shopping Center. 

“It was a little intimidating at first,” Sarah admitted. “All the other project engineers went to school and seemed very smart and prepared and ready to go. I was nervous they were going to see straight through me.”

And honestly, it was challenging. Like Vegas itself, the work was fast-paced. There was a lot to learn. And, well, she was the only woman on the job site.

“To this day, I go to the field or in meetings with 15 people and I am the only female in there. And typically, the youngest one in there, too,” she said.

Being outnumbered used to make her anxious. To combat nerves in those early days, Sarah would emulate her feisty grandmothers.

“Both of them were below five feet tall, but they were like drill sergeants with men. They could get men to shape up like no other,” she said. “The tough thing is when you walk through the door. There’s assumptions of what you might be like. I’m this tiny girl who wears makeup and high heels and gets her nails done. Am I going to be a ditz? No. You have to show them, ‘Hey, just because I dress like this or look like this, it doesn’t mean I am what you think I am.’”

Sarahs grandmothers in front of Christmas tree

Indeed. She’s done nothing but continue climbing the ranks in those heels.

Fast forward just two years. 

Now she’s the project manager on the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s new Reality-Based Training Center, a 105,000-square-foot campus where first responders can practice simulations for personal and citizen defense, along with active shooter incidents. 

While project managers typically oversee multiple sites at once, the sheer size of the training center demands all of Sarah’s attention. She frames her duties by using the body as a metaphor. For a former would-be doctor, this isn’t entirely surprising.

“The project manager is the brain. We collect costs. We make sure change orders are out. We make sure everyone’s paid. We make sure schedules are on time. The superintendent is the heart of the project — they keep everything flowing out in the field and make sure the organs are working.”

There’s pressure, sure, but she finds it thrilling. After all, she’s the brain on one of Las Vegas’ most high-profile ongoing construction projects, and one that the community initiated as a direct result of the 2017 mass shooting.

For Sarah, it also represents the magnitude of her own personal responsibility in getting the job done right.

It’s gratifying to know that the projects The Korte Company delivers can change the world. The completion of this training center promises to save lives. But that kind of contribution to public welfare isn’t even the best part of working for The Korte Company, in Sarah’s opinion. 

It’s the way Korte focuses on family.

“My family was very important for me. I sacrificed leaving school to take care of them. And what Korte is — is a big family.”

Even with a baby boy due this December and maternity leave on the horizon, Sarah knows that she can trust that her project will be in good hands.

“They’re excited for my family to start, so they communicate constantly. I know I’m going to be taken care of, I know my project’s going to be taken care of and I love that about them. You don’t feel like you’ll get lost.”

The American dream, fulfilled

Sarah is a second-generation immigrant and proud of it.

Her father moved to Oklahoma from Romania without knowing a lick of English. He spent his whole life working blue collar jobs to feed his family. And throughout Sarah’s early childhood, her feisty Romanian (Romanian) grandmother was ever-present.

Sarah’s mother is the daughter of a Spanish immigrant. When Sarah was little, her mother worked nights at Walmart while picking up daytime temp positions.

At eight, Sarah’s parents separated. Her father stayed in Oklahoma while she and her brother joined their mother in Los Angeles. Money was always tight, and their Van Nuys and Inglewood neighborhoods were rough.

But California also offered something Oklahoma lacked: people who better reflected her mother’s heritage.

“I grew up in a Hispanic community,” said Sarah. “Over time, I started adopting more Hispanic culture — all my friends were Hispanic, I was completely around it 24/7, and now that I have a Hispanic husband, I identify with it even more. I listen to Spanish music. I speak more Spanish than I speak Romanian.

Her trilingual abilities are definitely an asset on diverse job sites. But as Sarah sees it, her identity itself has value, too.

“I’m proud to not only be representing women, but to be representing Hispanics. When they come into construction, they’re just thought of as the labor, the field workers. But we can be in higher-up positions as well.”

Even today, Sarah is often the only person in a room full of suits with a last name like Hernandez.

But that doesn’t faze her anymore. In fact, it’s a point of pride.

“I’m happy to be able to represent my family and everyone migrating to the U.S. for a better life. We can work our way up and we can stand up there as well.”

When Sarah started working for The Korte Company, she knew that she would need to put in her time as a Project Engineer before becoming a Project Manager. She had expected that to take at least five years. But just two years into the job, she got another unexpected phone call.

She can still remember the scene. She was standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes. Her husband Daivy was cooking dinner. 

And then the phone rang. It was Jason Weiss, one of the men who’d interviewed her in the later rounds of her initial hiring process.

“He said, ‘You work very hard and we believe in you. We want to give this to you.’”

She stammered through the rest of the conversation. Immediately after hanging up, she burst into tears. Alarmed, her husband asked if she’d been fired.

“No,” she told him. “They promoted me.”

To this day, she still can’t say it without smiling. 

“After only two years of working for them — with no college degree or anything — it just felt overwhelming.”

When Sarah told her parents about her promotion, they cried, too.

“They were like, ‘What a journey to get here,’” she said. “It’s a whirlwind. My husband and I talk about it every day.”

Daivy celebrated the enormity of her achievement just as much as Sarah. A technician for a Department of Defense contractor, he is also a first-generation immigrant. They met while she was bartending in Oklahoma, but beer goggles had nothing to do with Sarah catching his eye. When she asked why he wanted to date after years of friendship, he told her that it was because she was the hardest worker he’d ever seen.

At the time, she laughed it off and said, “I’m just trying to pay my bills, man!”

It’s hard to believe that was just a few years ago. Their lives have changed so much. Now they live comfortably in Summerlin, one of the nicest neighborhoods in the Las Vegas area.  And today, they make enough to pay their bills, and still find time to volunteer wherever they can.)

“My husband and I are very involved in giving back to lower-income communities. He came to the U.S. when he was 10, moved into the projects of Harlem and grew up in a one-bedroom apartment with five people,” Sarah said. “We both experienced being on Section 8, living off food stamps and never having anything new. We know what it’s like to have parents who work very, very, very, very hard.”

Sarah and her husband are active philanthropists, whether that’s participating in volunteer arms of the AGC or helping the Humane Society. (As a pit bull lover, animal rescues are close to her heart, too.) But her favorite volunteer activity is Nevada’s Pop Up & Give program, which fights food insecurity throughout Southern Nevada. She’s also involved with events like Sleep in Heavenly Peace, Construction vs. Cancer, Just One Project, Habitat for Humanity, Operation Backpack, Ayden’s Army of Angels, Goodie Two Shoes Foundation, Sunrise Children Foundation.

Sarah volunteering with united way

“We’ll go donate big mounds of food and set up at an elementary school. People come in a line and you just hand it out to them. Things like that were very helpful to me and my family. As much I can give back, I absolutely do it.”

Sarah’s husband experienced stints in an informal foster system as a child. As a result, they’re both dedicated to serving kids in need. “Any kind of inspiration we can give them, like, ‘Hey, I came from the same struggle as you. Look at me. I didn’t give up.’”

The way she sees it, if she could climb out of poverty, those kids can, too — as long as they know it’s possible.

After all, she grew up in a family of immigrants, embraced every aspect of their heritage, married an immigrant herself and carries the complexity of that identity with pride. And though she once envisioned a life as far away from construction as possible, there’s something poetic about finding success in the field where her own father got his start. 

That’s not a story to erase or reject, but to embrace. 

And that’s exactly what Sarah has done. She survived a hard-scrabble childhood. She dropped out of college. She picked a field that builds things. And then she built a life — hard fought, hard won.

“My husband knows my struggle. He watched me working three jobs, helping my family. Now it’s this relief. Like, ‘Holy crap, dude.’ We did it.”

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