Megan Kocikowski is Vice President of Comprehensive Program Services, a full service program and construction management company based in Atlanta.
Serving as an independent advocate for local government, nonprofit and higher education clients, CPS has worked closely with Headley Construction on projects including the Newnan Public Safety Complex, The HOP Pickleball Facility, and University of West Georgia Newnan Hospital Conversion.
Her team has also done extensive work at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International, the world's busiest airport, managing elements of cost, time and quality.
Focused on achieving maximum value for each taxpayer dollar, Megan is an expert at balancing the needs of people, operational processes, technology solutions and facilities.
What inspired you to pursue a career in Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC)?
I actually just fell into the industry. I was a mathematics major at Georgia State University and happened to get an internship just a few blocks from school with a state agency in Georgia tasked with managing many state-funded construction projects. However, as soon as I started working there, I was hooked on the AEC industry. Working in this industry means that not any two days at work will be the same, it allows for travel, and requires both technical and interpersonal skills.
What is your educational background? How/why did you select your program?
After pursuing an undergraduate degree in mathematics, I felt the need to add a more relevant degree that aligned with my AEC career goals. I received my Master’s in Building Construction at the Georgia Institute of Technology by taking evening classes while working at the state. Getting a Building Construction or Construction Management advanced degree or pursuing continuing education courses is a great option for those that, like me, have a nontraditional degree but have a desire to work in the AEC industry.
Please describe your career path, including any obstacles you faced along the way.
I worked at the state for 13 years including my time as an intern. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to work on significant commercial projects at a young age and start developing my network early in my career. I also had incredible leaders, including men who recognized my strengths and didn’t treat me differently from others because I’m a female, as well as women who served as mentors and instilled in me a desire to follow in their footsteps.
I began working at CPS a few years ago and have been absolutely thrilled with working with such an incredibly talented group of program managers that go above and beyond each and every day for our clients. Our CEO and our President have fostered an outstanding culture at our office that makes it a joy to come to work every day. It’s really exciting to be a small part of pushing the needle and continuing our growth.
It’s important for us as women to be strong, confident, and remain professional, and don’t allow people that are small-minded and discriminatory to occupy our thoughts.
I certainly faced challenges and obstacles along the way. Recently, someone reminded me of an encounter from nearly ten years ago where a man was dismissive of me during a professional discussion, not because of the substance of my argument, but because of my age and gender. What I find most striking is that I didn’t recall the interaction!
I believe it’s important for us as women to be strong, confident, and remain professional, and don’t allow people that are small-minded and discriminatory to occupy our thoughts. I don’t linger on the negativity that can come from working in the industry as a female. Instead, I choose to focus on how many people I have met that are supportive and how quickly the industry is changing to become more inclusive.
What are you working on now? What are you looking forward to in 2022?
Right now, I’m working on a lot of projects in the criminal justice market and learning about how important proper design is in these types of facilities—not only in keeping both staff and inmates safe and ensuring the facility is secure, but on reducing operational costs for the Owners, creating calming environments, and even reducing recidivism. Most of my work at the state was in education projects, so for the few years since I’ve been working at CPS, I’ve gotten to learn about other markets we focus on—aviation, municipal work, and criminal justice, to name a few. That’s a great benefit of construction—I’m always learning!
I’ve spent the last few years at CPS drinking through a figurative fire hose. Not only am I learning about the business aspects and responsibilities of having a leadership role in our firm, but I’ve also been learning about the unique programmatic needs that come from each of our markets, and how to utilize our incredibly talented staff to be successful. Now that I am starting to get my sea legs under me, I am really looking forward to all the great things our company has in store for 2022—and beyond.
Do you have a favorite project in Coweta County?
There is a two-way tie for my favorite CPS project in Coweta. The first is Fire Station No. 4 along Millard Farmer Industrial Boulevard in Newnan. I lived in Newnan for almost 10 years and, while I had already moved away when that project was being constructed, it was only a mile and a half from where I had lived in Newnan. Had I still been there, the first responders at that fire station would have responded to my home in the event of an emergency. It really put into perspective how important that facility will be for the surrounding community. It’s one thing to know construction projects are significant. It’s incredibly impactful when it’s personal and close to home—literally!
City officials and staff truly listened to the community... That’s what servant leadership is all about. And our role at CPS is to support those amazing servant leaders in making these projects come to fruition.
The other project is the recently completed CJ Smith Park upgrades. What I truly loved about that project was that the City officials and staff truly listened to the community about the desired amenities at the park, even holding public meetings for input on the design. I was impressed with how they truly know what it means to be public servants and their desire for the park to reflect the needs of their constituents.
I was not involved in the day-to-day on the project—we had a fantastic team that executed the project for the City—but I’ll never forget attending the ribbon cutting where the skate park was already filled with skateboarders that were so excited to have a place of their own. You could see the pride of the faces of those with the City. That’s what servant leadership is all about. And our role at CPS is to support those amazing servant leaders in making these projects come to fruition.
What do you enjoy most about your work? Enjoy least?
I think it is so rewarding to be able to see the physical results of a project that I worked on. I love that about the AEC industry. When I look at the completed projects, it’s about
more than the facility. It’s a physical manifestation of the team’s hard work and collaboration to make the project a success. It is a reminder of all of blood, sweat, and tears that went into it—all the memories, problem-solving, lessons learned, but also the fun the team had along the way.
What are the biggest challenges women face, both breaking into the industry and as they progress?
It’s difficult being judged based on gender rather than experience or work ethic. Women face the challenge of breaking into the “good-old boy” club. There is a tendency for women to have to repeat ourselves to be heard. We are more likely to be interrupted or have credit taken for our ideas. The challenges we face as women in the industry are the same gender bias issues as those outside the industry, but they are exacerbated due to women being such a small percentage of the AEC workforce (just over 10%).
I really love to see women supporting women. My advice is for women to find companies that have a commitment to diversity and have a culture of inclusivity.
It’s important for women to realize that we are not alone in our experiences and recognize the inherent gender bias. I also really love to see women supporting women. My advice is for women to find companies that have a commitment to diversity and have a culture of inclusivity.
What are the greatest opportunities for women in the industry?
The challenge that women face from being so underrepresented is also an opportunity. Because the industry is changing and companies are recognizing the need for diversity, women have endless opportunities to work hard and climb the ladder. We just have to recognize our value and be willing to speak up.
What resources are available to young women who want to pursue architecture, engineering and construction as a career?
I highly encourage women to look into the countless AEC organizations available to them. Many offer discounted or free student membership rates in order to encourage youths to get involved in the industry.
There are organizations that are geared towards females, such as CREW Atlanta or the National Association of Women in Construction. I would encourage women to also participate in any AEC organization that speaks to them and their specific interests so that they can continue to learn about industry trends and grow their network.
I am currently serving as Chair for the Construction Management Association of America’s Scholarship Foundation board for the South Atlantic Chapter and we provide scholarships to students in the AEC industry.
How can we encourage them to pursue these careers? What are the barriers (real or perceived)?
We need K-12 teachers and guidance counselors to educate young women on the opportunities in the AEC industry. The perception for many youths is that the construction industry is focused on manual labor and working outside. While there are a lot of jobs in construction that require this, the breadth of the industry is extensive. Women can be architects, engineers, construction managers, program or project managers, or work in various trades.
To learn more about Megan's work, visit Comprehensive Program Services Atlanta online at cps-atlanta.com.