GroundBreak Carolinas is honored to spotlight Nichole Kopenhaver, a member of the exclusive group of 2021 GroundBreakers — five individuals who have gone above and beyond to make a difference for the construction community in the Carolinas. Kopenhaver is Assistant Project Manager with McCrory Construction, South Carolina’s oldest general contractor, and Immediate Past President of National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Chapter #113 in Columbia.
Kopenhaver says she was “raised in the construction industry,” having worked in this field for nearly 25 years. She attended Trident Technical College and held various roles prior to joining McCrory six years ago. Kopenhaver’s professional credentials include certification as both a Construction Industry Technician (CIT) and a Construction Bookkeeping Technician (CBT) through the NAWIC Education Foundation (NEF).
Her colleagues are quick to point out how she is always looking for ways to make a positive impact on the construction industry today – and in the future – by promoting the wide-ranging career options to all ages.
“A few years ago, Nichole had a vision for introducing kids to careers in the construction industry through a hands-on educational event open to the community. She then followed through on making it happen, successfully rallying people from all areas of the industry to launch the now-annual Construction Kids Discovery & Awareness Day in March 2019,” said Jordan Jolly, a co-worker at McCrory and fellow member of NAWIC Columbia.
In just two years (there was no live event in 2020 due to the pandemic), this well-received collaborative event spearheaded by Kopenhaver has exposed more than 1,000 kids to all the possibilities of construction as a career. Attendees have been able to explore heavy construction equipment, such as a mini-excavator, roll-off container truck and skid-steer loader. The kids zone area has offered plenty of activities, including using building blocks to construct a bridge over water, PVC playhouse construction, interior design boards, jumbo building blocks, mining for gems, strongest shape activities, tools and fasteners, and much more. At Construction Kids Discovery & Awareness Day 2021, attendees again had the chance to explore vehicles – a dump truck and an excavator – along with South Carolina’s own Be Pro Be Proud 18-wheeler, a unique mobile workshop with simulators designed to promote skilled trades.
Kopenhaver is involved with MEBA (Midlands Education and Business Alliance), serving as speaker and panelist at MEBA Building Your Future events for high school students, and mentoring high school job-shadow students. She is a return panelist on MEBA’s Industry panel for Richland School District Two GEAR UP, a program designed to assist first generation college students with career readiness resources throughout their high school years, helping to make the transition from high school to college successful. The purpose of the panel discussion is to provide GEAR UP families with an overview of jobs/skills in demand in the Midlands and how they can prepare for a career in these areas: health sciences, manufacturing, construction, IT — all STEM related careers.
She represents McCrory at local events such as Lexington Technology Center’s Career Fair and has been a day presenter (about the construction industry) to students in the Engineering Academy at Spring Hill High School, a Career Pathways Magnet in the School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties.
Kopenhaver is known for stepping up to help raise funds for construction-related scholarships, and for offering insight on construction industry training and scholarship opportunities to educators and students alike. When interest is shown, she recommends alternative routes to the construction industry, promoting organizations such as the Midlands Mechanical Apprenticeship Coalition.
Outside the educational system, she promotes the construction industry in unique ways. For example, she was instrumental in the development of Builder Girl events for the Girl Scouts of South Carolina – Mountains to Midlands.
Kopenhaver’s obvious passion for expanding the construction community has led her to becoming one of the top recruiters in the National Association of Women in Construction. Not only does she recruit women to the industry, but she also embraces new members – making them feel welcome and nurturing them through activities/events until they have grown to be leaders in the organization and the industry. She played a key role in establishing the NAWIC Palmetto Chapter #385, chartered in 2018, in her hometown of Charleston, SC.
Her accolades with NAWIC are many. In addition to serving as NAWIC Columbia Chapter #113 President for 2019-2020, Kopenhaver was the chapter’s Career Awareness Committee Chair for more than three years. She has a long list of recognition awards, including NAWIC National Executive Spotlight Award (2019), NAWIC South Atlantic Region Member of the Year (2017 and 2019), NAWIC South Atlantic Region Top Recruiter (2016-2019), and NAWIC Chapter Member of the Year (2016, 2017).
“The relationships I have developed within NAWIC have helped me both professionally and personally by sharpening my project skills, expanding partnerships, and promoting personal growth, as well as offering leadership opportunities, mentorships and, most importantly, lifelong friendships across the country,” said Kopenhaver.
She went on to say, “Being named a 2021 Groundbreaker within such a formidable group does not just speak for my accomplishments but also the Columbia Chapter of NAWIC ladies. Together we strive to inspire others who have the same passion for the construction industry or open minds to what our industry has to offer as a career path.”
Kopenhaver gives full credit to her employer, McCrory Construction, for her success in creating awareness about careers in construction. “The time I have put into bringing my passion to others is very time consuming and could not have been done without the support of McCrory’s leadership – the work within the schools, NAWIC, and the personal development of myself and other employees. McCrory Construction clearly understands the future of our industry depends on the generations we are trying to impact,” she said.
To learn more about the GroundBreaker Awards and this year’s winners read our announcement article of August 11, 2021.
Nichole is a positive influence on everyone she engages with – both inside our industry and those considering a career in construction. She is passionate about the future of building, supporting all, regardless of age or gender.– Jordan Jolly, Project Manager, McCrory Construction