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Cracking the Concrete Ceiling: Kristen Kupperman '06
Sarah O'Neill

As a woman working in the construction industry, Kristen Kupperman ’06 has experienced her fair share of challenges. Even as an expert in her field she has had to prove herself every time she steps on a job site. As part of the 10% of women who work in in construction, she is making waves and breaking through the concrete ceiling challenging women in this field.

Following in her grandfather and father’s footsteps, Kristen has worked as a Project Engineer, Project Manager and now as Senior Operational Excellence Manager for Gilbane Building Company, one of the largest privately held family-owned construction and real estate development firms in the country.

A typical day for Kristen involves throwing on work boots, a hi-vis vest, safety goggles and hard hat to oversee anywhere from 100 to 300 workers on one job site. Her daily responsibilities include managing contractors, keeping the project on schedule, on budget, and mitigating risk. Because most of her projects are in cities, the work sites are small and safety is a number one priority.

Kristen loves construction because everything is tangible. Plans are turned into a reality and she gets to see it happen in real time. She has worked in places such as New England, New York City, Chicago and Iowa and has worked on fashion retail stores for C Wonder with founder and fellow Tilton School alumnus J. Christopher Burch ‘72, but her favorite project was the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

The Iowa opportunity came about when Kristen’s husband, a physician, had just been transferred to Chicago for his Residency. She was in her boss’s office speaking with him about potential opportunities when she was presented the children’s hospital. The project schedule was critical and he thought her personality and ability to push a job along would be perfect. She thought so, too.

When she told her husband about the project he said,

“Kristen, do you know where Iowa is?”


“You know they don’t have certain stores in Iowa.”


“How are you going to get to Iowa?”

“Well, I’m going to drive a pickup truck.”

Kristen headed from New York to Iowa for the next year. She reflects on this as the most meaningful project of her career. For the first time, her Project Executive was a woman and she was ecstatic. Kristen’s Project Executive, Jennifer, went on to become Kristen’s mentor and a major influence in her career.

“When I first arrived in Iowa I was struggling. You could tell that my Massachusetts personality was not well received; everyone thought I was yelling all the time when I was just talking. I went into my PX’s office and said I don’t think I can do this anymore, she told me to go back out there and push. It’s what we needed. And eventually I saw a change.”

Mentorship has been an important part of Kristen’s career. Kristen started out working in construction for her father, who has had a major impact on her career. Students at Tilton have it with their advisors - someone you can go to and ask questions, get advice from, solicit guidance. Someone you connect with and can talk to about critical decisions. Kristen has been fortunate to find this not only in her father, but in her professional career with Jennifer.

The University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital is a 14 story, 507,000 square foot facility with 22,000 square feet of terrazzo flooring, 109 patient rooms, eight operating rooms, six procedure rooms, a movie theater, and a skybox overlooking University of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium.

Kristen became actively involved with the children at the hospital and unfortunately, most of the patients are in and out of the hospital for most of their childhood. Therefore, the hospital was designed with quality of life in mind with fun colors, shapes and games built into the décor and surprises hidden in the terrazzo floor.

"It was the most rewarding project I ever worked on. To be a part of a project that can give so much to people who have had a tough go of it, is so rewarding. Witnessing the first patient cross the threshold was truly a special moment, one I cherish everyday”

Read the full story in 2018-2019 edition of "1845: The Magazine of Tilton School"

Kristen graduated from Tilton School in 2006 and attended American University in Washington, D.C. where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and was a member of the women’s ice hockey team. She has since worked in construction as a project manager on projects in retail, housing, and healthcare.



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