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Not your average Joe: The impacts of one construction management professor

Joe Karpinski wins the University Teaching Council NTT Outstanding Teacher award in 2016. (Courtesy of Joe Karpinski)

For Joe Karpinski, teaching and sharing his knowledge began at the age of 19, after his older brother turned down a teaching opportunity in drafting, which is creating and analyzing construction blueprints.

Fast-forward 47 years later, and Karpinski continues to bond two passions — construction and teaching — into one job, which he announced he will be retiring from at the end of the spring 2024 semester. 

Joe Karpinski is a construction management senior lecturer in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design and the Construction Management Student Organization advisor. (Courtesy of Joe Karpinski)

Karpinski, a construction management senior lecturer and faculty advisor to the Construction Management Student Organization, may just be an average Joe to some. However, many say he is a mentor and friend, on speed dial for others. 

“He’s basically the one that fosters the support system with the construction management students and that is what’s so highly talked about with our program,” said Aiden Slattery, a senior construction management major and Construction Management Student Organization’s events chair.

In 2005, Karpinski said he was stopped in the hallway by the dean of the college at that time. He emphasized to Karpinski the need for a construction management program. With a two-year timeline requested, Karpinski got to work, later creating the program in 2007 when he became a full-time faculty member 

With 30 years in the Akron Public Schools as a career pathway specialist and industrial arts and technology education teacher, Karpinski said he was ready for the challenge. 

“I was locked in my office over in the old Van Deusen [Hall] hours upon hours, developing lesson plans, developing quizzes, tests and assignments just typing like crazy,” Karpinski said. “My fingers got tired.”

As the lone and dedicated faculty member of the program for years, Karpinski started the program with 12 courses that he worked upon developing at that time for approximately the 12 to 15 students a part of the program. Now, the program has grown to over 30 courses and 260 students, he said.

“[Karpinski] saw the need for this program and he started it from the ground up,” Slattery said.

Additionally, after the program was jump started, Karpinski spearheaded the creation of the university’s Construction Management Student Organization, which assists concentrated students in providing them with a place to put their skills to the test outside the classroom, Slattery said.

“He really breaks down everything that a job site requires you to do and then you’re turning that in and he’s checking all of it,” said Tara Rybar, a sophomore construction management major and Construction Management Student Organization’s president.

Karpinski said he encourages all of his students to join the student organization because of the long term benefits that can be gained from it even after graduation.

“The most rewarding part is talking with students that have graduated that I know I have helped them get into a career that right away they can support themselves and family with,” he said. 

For Karpinski’s current students, their initiation and urgency to pursue this discipline comes in different ways which excites him, he said.

“Students that come and ask me to write them references for scholarships or internships and I help them get jobs,” Karpinski said.

Karpinski said the career fairs are where he gets to see his current students interact with alumni who are now established within the discipline. The career fairs assist in quantifying the growth of where he started the program to today, as each year the event received more students and prospective companies.

“These career fairs are what help support the student organization,” Rybar said. 

Another way Karpinski supported the student organization and students within the construction management discipline was with course textbooks. If a student joined the student organization and honored the rules established, such as going to a certain number of events, construction management textbooks were free on loan per semester, he said.

“It saves students hundreds of dollars each semester,” Karpinski said.

Karpinski seeks to help his students, but realizes when to let them use their own skills and intelligence to problem-solve, said Tessa Gabriel, a senior construction management major and Construction Management Student Organization’s general board chair.

Joe Karpinski and his daughter, Sara Brandner, at the MCAA Student Summit in 2012. (Courtesy of Joe Karpinski)

“He basically gives a really good foundation of things that you need to know,” she said. “He likes for you to be able to get to the conclusion on your own — he wants to see that he’s been teaching you the correct way.”

Karpinski said as he slows his role within the university’s construction management community, the “legacy” is anticipated to stay in the family. His daughter, Sara Brander, is a construction management lecturer at the university, and she looks to become the student organization’s faculty advisor, just like her father. 

As Karpinski prepares for one final semester, Gabriel, Slattery and Rybar spoke on their appreciation for their professor, mentor and friend.

“We’re eternally grateful for him,” Slattery said. “We’re going to miss him.”

After decades of teaching, Karpinski said he has watched students grow and take advantage of opportunities while expanding a program and student organization that was all in the making and he did not expect to be a part when he was asked at 19 to become a teacher.

“You just never know where you’re going to end up,” Karpinski said. “Don’t close any doors, just look at them all, because I never thought I would be teaching college.”

Anthony Zacharyasz is a general assignment editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Anthony Zacharyasz, Managing Editor
Anthony is a senior journalism major with a business minor in his fifth semester at KentWired, serving as the managing editor for the spring semester. Previously, he was a reporter and general assignment editor where plenty of communication, leadership and writing skills were put to the test. Additionally, he is a part of TV2, as an anchor and segment anchor paving the way for multimedia opportunities. He enjoys writing about politics at all levels, business environments and financial matters. Contact him at [email protected].

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