Building a legacy: Construction enrollment on the rise


Joseph Karpinski sits at his desk in the The College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology building on Sunday, November 15, 2015.

Tess Cottom

On a breezy autumn day, the drifting sound of whizzing motors and hammers clinking on tin are heard through an open window, reminding Joseph Karpinski of the growing demand for construction students.

“We have 100 percent job placement,” Karpinski said. “I can’t (re)place the students fast enough.”

The rapid growth in the field is reflective in Kent State’s Construction Management Program. With about 160 students in the program, it is seeing its highest enrollment to date.

Currently, the program is working on getting its second accreditation by the American Council for Construction Education (ACCE).  

Although the program is already accredited by the Association of Technology, Management and Applied Engineering (ATMAE), Karpinski is highly anticipating a second participant.

“That is the granddaddy to get for your program,” he said. “It’s more a stamp of approval for the program to really be on the upper echelon of those programs that have it.”

This expansion is nothing new for Karpinski. He’s been working for eight years to turn construction management at Kent State into the flourishing program that it is today.

Karpinski started off doing residential construction with a fellow teacher from Akron public schools where he taught industrial arts at the time.

“I have personally contracted three homes for my own family,” he said. “Even though this is my 39th year of teaching, I have been doing construction since day one of that.”

Karpinski began working at Kent State part-time in 1990, teaching a construction technology course. It wasn’t until 2005 that the dean of the College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology (CAEST) challenged Karpinski to come up with 12 classes to turn construction management into its own major.

“I did some research on courses,” he said. “(I) retired from Akron in 2007 and then I started here full-time in August of 2007.”

Since then, Karpinski has used his experience in teaching and construction to build the program from the ground up.  

He started the Construction Management Student Organization at Kent State, which is the program’s student chapter. Students in the organization reap many benefits, including getting their textbooks rented out to them for free.

Karpinski also worked to get funding for the program, receiving grants from the Metal Construction Association (MCA) and Career Services.

As the program began to grow, he hired a second full-time professor, George Bigham, in 2011.

“He has pieces he’s interested in that he likes doing and I have pieces I’m interested in, and they’re usually different, so that works out well,” Bigham said. “In the academic world, you don’t often get to come in and have that kind of freedom to create. He lets me do all those crazy ideas, so I like that.”

The duo work together on everything, such as getting students involved with career fairs, competitions and volunteer work.

“Ever since we started, we have gotten involved with community service,” Karpinski said. “Almost every Saturday our students are going on community service projects.”

Currently, students in Construction Management are working on “rehabbing” — or restoring — a house in Cleveland so they can sell it, buy another and continue rebuilding that section of town.

Students also do work for national nonprofit organizations that rebuild and clean up areas in need, such as Adopt a HighwayHabitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together,.

“We have a unique skill set so we’re able to do things for the community and make a really big impact,” Bigham said.

This year, due to the high influx of students, Karpinski hired lecturer Anthony Mirando to the program. Mirando was Karpinski’s student until he graduated in 2011.

“He is the creator of this whole program, and he’s all about providing opportunities for the students,” Mirando said. “It’s Joe’s caring and compassion that’s cultivated this revolving door of giving kids opportunities.”

Karpinski tries to stay in contact with all of his students, including alumni. He does this by placing them in different jobs and inviting them back for career fairs.

“He has over 800 student phone numbers in his phone,” Bigham said. “He really does care about students.”

In the midst of juggling a self-made library system and an expansive student body, Karpinski pauses to listen to the bustle of traffic and construction on Summit Street.

“Sometimes I look out my window and see my daughter out there working,” Karpinski said through a smile.

Karpinski’s daughter, Sara Brandner, graduated from Kent State and is now the project coordinator for the Summit Street Improvement Project.

“I bleed blue and gold, and I like what I’m doing” Karpinski said. “I met my wife here at Kent State and all my kids are graduates from here… life is great.”

Tess Cottom at [email protected].