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Women in Construction Week: Female student making mark in Construction class

Being able to create a family, build a dream home and live out all kinds of real-life experiences in a fictional universe is what made “The Sims” video game series one of the top-selling of all time. It’s also the reason behind why one Jackson Area Career Center student is living out her dream job as a senior in high school. 

Meet Natalie Coppernoll – a 17-year-old Grass Lake High School senior who happens to be the only female enrolled in the Construction Trades program. Natalie came to the Career Center as a junior, learning the basics of construction. Now a senior, she has taken her interest in design and architecture, and applied it to the program by helping design the house being built by second-year students. The on-site house is essentially the “classroom” for these students, allowing them to get real world experience in the construction industry by building a custom home together.

“My passion for design really started from "The Sims video" game, where I got to build things,” says Natalie. “My mom encouraged me to ask my instructor about doing design in the program and within the first week, I was toying around with the Chief Architect program on my instructor’s computer.”

Her instructor, Mr. Jon Kopp, showed her some basics of the program, but for the most part, Natalie is self-taught. “I just dug right into it and started clicking different buttons and eventually learned how to design things by plugging in different measurements.” After a month of using the program, Natalie got to work on designing a kitchen for the on-site house and is currently in the process of designing the back deck area.

“Natalie is one of the most self-motivated students I have ever had the pleasure to teach,” says instructor Jon Kopp. “I keep challenging her with more advanced projects and every time she impresses me with her tenacity to figure out the problems and challenges she faces.”

It wasn’t long before administrators and industry professionals were talking about Natalie’s work. Just four months into the school year, Natalie was offered a job with Jackson construction services firm, Prominent Build & Design, after owner Chris Sayles found out she was working with the same CAD program that he’s been working with for the last 25 years. He offered her a job and she accepted – doing preliminary CAD work on various residential and commercial projects. Sayles says he’s very happy with her work and excited for her future in the industry. “Natalie's interest and passion for what she is doing is evident. She started the process on her own and showed initiative in getting started.  These are all characteristics that all employers are looking for,” says Sayles.

Natalie is part of a group that is historically underrepresented in the construction industry - females. According to the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), construction has less than 9% of women working in the industry. In the actual trades, it’s only 3%. That’s why March 3-9, 2019 has been declared “Women in Construction Week” – a week dedicated to changing the stereotypes that women face when it comes to careers. Natalie credits sibling rivalry to why she feels comfortable in a career typically dominated by males. “My brother used to torture and tease me all the time,” says Natalie. “All of that eventually made me stronger, giving me the confidence to face boys and not let them intimidate me.”

It may be the boys who are intimidated by Natalie now. “It was very scary walking into class on the first day with a bunch of guys looking at me, anticipating I wasn’t going to be able to do anything,” says Natalie. “But as time went on, they realized they can ask me things and learn from me.” Instructor Jon Kopp says Natalie is so far ahead with her knowledge and expertise in using the Chief Architect program, she’s instructing other students on how to use it. “Rather than have her design a simple deck as I have other students doing, she has gone above and beyond and designed an incredible looking deck that I plan to add to the rear of our project home.”

In addition to working a few days a week and going to school, Natalie is part of the National Technical Honor Society. The organization requires her to hold down a high GPA and contribute volunteer hours to her community. Her maturity, responsibility and hard-working attitude also earned her a nomination from her teacher for the Michigan Department of Education’s 2019 Breaking Traditions Award. The award recognizes high school and college students who have demonstrated success in CTE programs that are nontraditional to their gender. Instructor Jon Kopp says Natalie is very deserving of this award. “Natalie has embraced a field that is very male-dominated, and is proving that she not only has a place, but is able to excel.”

natalie construction

natalie construction

natalie construction

natalie construction

natalie construction

natalie construction

Kaci Babineau
kaci.babineau@jcisd.org
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