2024 Lewis Scholarship Recipients: Gabriel Nuñez-Sanchez and Hattie Zhang

By: Lewis Team

The Lease Crutcher Lewis Foundation is now in its third year of making grants and scholarship awards, activating the collective resources of our employees and partners to improve our communities.

The foundation supports historically underrepresented people in the construction industry and non-profits that help build a more diverse workforce for the industry.

Below, meet 2024 Scholarship recipients Gabriel (Gabe) Nuñez-Sanchez and Hattie Zhang, both soon-to-be graduates of Edmonds College’s two-year construction management program.

Gabriel Nuñez-Sanchez (Gabe)

After spending his early childhood years in Portland, Oregon, Gabe and his family moved to the Tri-Cities to start life anew after the financial crisis of 2007-2008. The economic downturn cost Gabe’s father his livelihood as an ironworker.

Growing up in Pasco, Washington, Gabe remembers living out of a car for a time. Later, he remembers living in a tough neighborhood where gangs were ever-present. That didn’t stop his father from eventually become a general foreman with a framing subcontractor—all while raising two sons as a single parent. He has since started his own business.

Gabe didn’t feel especially well-prepared for college after graduating from high school in 2020. He followed in his father’s footsteps instead, spending a year working for various contractors including a concrete and excavation company in the Seattle area. In 2021, his managers saw his potential and suggested he study construction management. They even offered to pay for his first year’s tuition. Gabe took them up on their offer and enrolled at Edmonds College’s construction management program.

“I didn’t realize how much of a business construction is,” he said of the early goings. “It’s not just about workmanship and pride. At the end of the day there is a bottom line that requires work being sold and money coming in. It’s been eye-opening to see the possibilities in construction. I didn’t realize it ran that deep.”

In April, Gabe served as the keynote speaker at the INSPIRE fundraising gala for the Edmonds College Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at providing educational opportunities to every student.
In April, Gabe served as the keynote speaker at the INSPIRE fundraising gala for the Edmonds College Foundation.

In addition to thriving in the classroom, Gabe has also been active on campus. He serves as a Triton Ambassador, which entails fielding questions from prospective students. He also speaks at fundraising events on behalf of the Edmonds College Foundation so that it can raise funds for students like him.

Gabe was recently named a Martin Family Foundation Achievement Scholar, allowing him to finish additional coursework before he transfers to the University of Washington for the start of fall 2025 classes.

As a first-generation college student, Gabe says his family wasn’t sure what to expect when he told them about going to Edmonds College. Now, he has his eyes set on a few different career trajectories after graduating from UW: working in commercial concrete, commercial interiors, or in real estate development.

“I have ambitions that my family can see and recognize,” he says. “They love to see that I’m getting so much support from the industry and my community.”

Hattie Zhang

Growing up in Shanghai, Hattie and her friends all wanted to study in the United States. Ultimately, her family couldn’t afford to send her there, so she went to college in China and became a management consultant focused on delivering training programs for her multinational clients.

About 10 years ago, Hattie visited the U.S. for the first time. She had certain expectations of the country. What she saw astonished her.

“I saw a lot of homeless people on the street. This was very shocking for me,” she recalls.

The initial experience inspired Hattie to make subsequent trips with various church groups, volunteering to provide food and other supportive services. The more homeless people she spoke to and interacted with, the more she realized the complexity of the problem and the acute shortage of affordable housing in places like the Puget Sound region. One poignant moment came when she handed a man a perfectly good box of noodles at a church event. The man declined. It was becoming harder and harder to find a place where he could boil water, he said.

These conversations, coupled with a growing interest in low-income housing, inspired Hattie fulfill her dream of studying in the U.S.

Since enrolling in Edmonds College’s construction management program in 2022, she’s volunteered at Low Income Housing Institute’s (LIHI) tiny house villages and their worksites and has had a chance to tour Sound Foundation NW’s Hope Factory.

“I saw it all. Making a tiny house, how to paint it, how to layer the roof, the floor, how to cut boards. It was inspiring,” she says. “It made me think, ‘This is the reason why I chose construction management.’”

Hattie has gotten to know the ins and outs of building tiny homes through extensive volunteering. Pictured is Sound Foundation NW’s Hope Factory.

In the classroom, Hattie has faced a steep learning curve. She entered the program as one of the only students in the program without hands-on experience in the field. She is also the only international student. These things haven’t deterred her, she says, thanks to fellow students and instructors who are always happy to lend a hand.

“All of the vocabulary, everything. It’s all new,” Hattie says. “But my personality helps. I like challenges. I like new knowledge.”

Hattie is set to graduate June 14. She hopes to work in low-income housing or to use her experience in project management on large-scale commercial construction projects.