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April 17, 2019
St. Rita SquareCommunity involvement, Diversity

Every day they look out their classroom window onto our jobsite. From their vantage point, I'm sure it looks like a bunch of dirty work - tradespeople tearing down buildings, digging in the dirt, pouring concrete, hoisting steel… you get the idea. So when we showed up to teach this group of 7th and 8th grade STEAM students about construction, I can only imagine what they were thinking.

At Pepper, we see our projects as a bridge to the community and regularly engage students in our projects whenever possible. We're pretty passionate about what we do and we want others to consider a career in construction. So when Capri Communities asked us to help them with a side project, we were all in! This was a great opportunity close to our Wisconsin office.

The STEAM Field Day was about getting the students out of the classroom and immersing them in the field - in the "real world." Capri's vision is even bigger than this, and it aligns well with our own commitment to educating future generations about construction. Their goal is to be engaged in the community and foster a connection between neighbors - the Cass Street school that sits adjacent to our jobsite, which is the future home of St. Rita's Square senior living facility. Once the building is occupied, they plan to continue programs that bring together seniors and students.

“As we look ahead to an increasingly competitive landscape for talent in virtually every industry sector, we have to change the way we think.  These students – though seemingly young – are our future workforce.  By exposing them, and immersing them, in real-life activities, it gives them a chance to “try on” or “test drive” a variety of jobs for a short time.  I’m a huge believer that these opportunities put some kids on the on-ramp for careers they are exposed to, while others take the exit ramp.  Either way, it’s a huge value to them, and to us as employers.  We feel so fortunate to be partnered with Pepper Construction who clearly shares these values.”

Alicia Dupies, Senior VP, Strategy & Growth
Capri Communities

Construction learning lab

What did the day look like? This video explains more than I could possibly describe:



Between Capri and Pepper we had 11 staff there to facilitate the program. Half of the time was spent in stations in the classroom, and the rest of the time was out on the job site. Students learned about the different roles and responsibilities involved in construction projects through a matching game. They were intrigued by the cutting edge technology, like drones, laser scanners and augmented reality, some of which they were able to try out for themselves. Finally, they enjoyed conversations with the soil engineer and concrete contractor and even helped snap chalk lines.

Vice President of Technical Services Jennifer Suerth was instrumental in planning the day:

"These students are our future workforce, and what they know about construction is traditional physical labor. As someone who is passionate about educating the next generation of workers, and particularly minority and female students, it’s been exciting for me to help create and implement a new and improved program like this. Many existing STEM programs are more design and science focused, but now we are seeing technology starting to be a bigger player."

Worth the effort

Students learn how technology is used on the jobsite

One female student was very excited after trying out laser scanning and remarked: “I had no idea there were career opportunities in construction like this! I thought construction was only swinging hammers and getting dirty.”

Many others echoed her thoughts. Projects like these become another project in themselves and often mean spending extra time outside of the normal work day. So when we hear feedback like this, it makes all the time spent well worth it.

More to come

Students learn how to snap chalk lines.

Already, we're gearing up for the next field day in another month, with other sessions to follow, and we're planning to spend even more time on site. The idea is to follow the progress of the project and design the education around the activities happening on site. We intend to continue to engage our trade partners in the process as well.

There's nothing more rewarding about work than making a difference in someone's life, and for me, having an impact on the next generation brings added satisfaction to my job. The highlight for me was seeing the students realize that construction is a lot more complex than workers hammering nails and there are more career opportunities in construction than they may have realized - particularly with how aspects of gaming and VR are applied to construction. Perhaps we'll even influence one or two to go into construction management.

Thanks to Capri Communities for their vision and their invitation to join them in their cause!

About the Author


Ryan Eberly, P.E., LEED APProject Director, Illinois

Ryan has been with Pepper since 2005 and has completed projects across a diverse spectrum of markets. As a project director, Ryan provides overall project management. Ryan holds a Master of Science in Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, both from Iowa State University. He is a LEED AP, an ASHE Healthcare Certified Constructor and Licensed Professional Engineer.