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Professor Penny Knoll, MS, CPC, is Associate Professor, Construction Engineering Technology Program Coordinator and Internship Director at Montana State University

Penny Knoll Interview: Uniting Constructors with Architects and Engineers

The American Institute of Constructors (AIC) is deeply committed to elevating constructors to the level of our architect and engineering brethren.

To ensure healthy unity within the AEC space, constructors must do their part by ensuring they have the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to manage complex construction projects.

AIC certifications are the means to validate that constructors can translate their educational training into managing real-world projects in the industry. Professors such as Penny Knoll, MS, CPC, are supporting the effort by helping students make the transition to managers and leaders.

Professor Knoll is Associate Professor, Construction Engineering Technology Program Coordinator and Internship Director at Montana State University (MSU), where she teaches Construction Management and Project Leadership.

For our organization, Professor Knoll serves as the Vice Chair of AIC’s Constructor Certification Commission (CCC) Board of Governors. We recently interviewed Professor Knoll to learn how she is equipping the next generation of construction managers for critical project work and why she is passionate about helping constructors gain credibility at the level of their AEC colleagues.

The Penny Knoll Story: From Industry to Education

One of the many reasons why Professor Knoll is such a valuable contributor to the construction industry is because of her remarkable career experience. She developed a unique perspective on matters that affect education and industry, enabling her to provide exceptional guidance to students, constructors, and AEC colleagues she works with.

Professor Knoll started working in construction during the 1980s. Professor Knoll and her husband, who was an architect, owned a design/build company for 15 years in Arizona. Together, they designed and built their own projects.

When it was time to move from Arizona to Montana, Professor Knoll obtained a Master’s degree and became a teacher at Montana State. At the time, there wasn’t much construction work available in Montana, so she went the academic route to continue participating in the construction industry.

“I thought teaching was a great idea. If I couldn’t build in the field, then I could build the future of construction through education,” says Professor Knoll.

Now, Professor Knoll provides instruction to students in one of the leading construction education programs in the country. Montana State offers an ABET accredited Construction Engineering Technology program that incorporates engineering principles into the program.

The program is housed in the Department of Civil Engineering, which provides students with a clear view of how construction fits into the AEC space. Their program has been in place since 1964, making it one of the most long-lasting programs in the country. Graduates often pursue career paths to Project Manager or Project Superintendent.

The key to providing students with equal footing to their AEC colleagues is using our certification exam as a standard measure of a student’s understanding of critical construction concepts and readiness for managing projects.

The Value of AIC Certifications in Construction Management

Professor Knoll knows first-hand the value of AIC certifications. She was one of the first professionals to take and pass our Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) Level II exam. She took the exam in November 1997, which was the second time that the exam was given.

“It was a reflection of real life. You have to have practiced in the industry to pass this type of exam,” says Professor Knoll. “The certification gave me equal footing in the AEC industry, and passing the exam provided me with the credentials needed to line up with the exam requirements for architects and engineers.”

Now as a teacher working with construction students, Professor Knoll encourages her students to put their best effort into passing our Certified Associate Constructor (CAC) Level I exam, which is designed to verify that students are equipped to manage construction projects.

Montana State has incorporated the CAC exam into their program since 1996, and they require students to sit for the exam in order to graduate.

“Incorporating the CAC exam into our program gives us an edge. It allows us to preach reality to students,” says Professor Knoll. “Architects and engineers have to take numerous exams during their professional careers. The CAC and CPC exams try to replicate the rigor of those exams to give constructors credentials in the industry.”

Professor Knoll’s career pathway helps her students see the value of obtaining the CAC Level I certification on the way to eventually becoming a CPC once they have amassed experience in the industry.

Additionally, Professor Knoll is able to help her students see the importance of not just being a manager but becoming a true leader who is capable of overseeing complex projects as part of their career progression.

Why Project Leadership in Construction Management?

At Montana State, Professor Knoll’s role is not simply to provide instruction in Construction Management principles. The program incorporates Project Leadership into the curriculum to ensure that future managers understand how to grow from being a manager to a leader.

“This is a people-first business. You have to be a leader,” says Professor Knoll. “Managers manage things, while leaders lead people on their team. There’s a big difference.

“There is an expectation that you will deal with people your entire career, and you have the power to influence their behavior. Even in today’s AI age, it still takes a human to operate and act in construction.”

Along the way, constructors are creating a legacy for themselves. Being a leader means holding themselves accountable for the quality of the work they are responsible for and helping elevate the overall construction industry to the level of architecture and engineering.

Professor Knoll says that when future construction managers hear her story, they develop the right leadership mindset to strive for excellence throughout their careers and leave behind their own legacy they can be proud of.

“I tell my students, ‘Think about what you will accomplish after 40 years of your career to show your children and grandchildren.’ You have an opportunity to leave a legacy,” says Professor Knoll.

Leaving a legacy is a key reason why Professor Knoll is involved in AIC. She is focused on supporting the next generation of constructors who have the power to make a long-lasting impact on the construction industry.

Why Professor Knoll is Involved in AIC

Professor Knoll has attended our annual conferences since the 1990s, when she received her CPC certification. She says getting involved in AIC was an opportunity to support our mission of leveling up constructors to the same respect as architects and engineers.

“Often, construction is not looked at as an equal in the triad of AEC. I wanted to participate in growing the respect of the industry,” says Professor Knoll.

Professor Knoll is involved in AIC programs such as the Constructor Certification Commission because it’s important to have a woman’s point of view in the industry. In an industry that has historically been male-dominated, her perspective is valuable to help create the type of industry that is attractive to female participants.

Combining her perspective with a background in both industry and education, Professor Knoll provides dynamic insights into what it takes to build successful projects and lead people that go beyond the classroom.

“I am an educator who came out of the industry, and I understand what it takes to build,” says Professor Knoll. “In the classroom, it’s important to have that industry background because students will be working with contractors and many other people in the field. At Montana State, we’re teaching the next generation field experience that will carry with them for decades.”

We appreciate the many career contributions from Professor Knoll – for our organization, the industry as a whole, and construction students. As AIC pursues the mission of elevating constructors to the level of architects and engineers, we are confident that Professor Knoll’s legacy will include her playing a significant part in achieving this goal.

– We invite you to join Penny Knoll and AIC to contribute to the growth of our industry. Contact us today to let us know how your company, university, or you as an individual would like to help advance construction and unite the AEC space.

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