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Mike Kopas Speaks for the Trees!

By Isabella Martinelli

Kopas posing with a white oak tree (photo via Mike Kopas)

Senior Director of Facilities and Capital Planning Mike Kopas likes to think of himself as “The Lorax” of Purchase College.

Way before facilities management and higher education, Kopas was an arborist.

“I’m a tree guy!” he says.

Although his position consists of a lot of administrative work, anytime a project comes up involving trees, he jumps at the opportunity.

“So, whenever something landscaping comes up on campus, I run out there,” says Kopas. “I’m like, ‘I know that!’”

Campus sustainability is only one of the various hats Kopas wears. He has been at Purchase College for just under six years and has been in higher education facilities management for 20 years.

Having worked in private institutions before, he liked the idea of a public institution. The community, the SUNY system, and the liberal arts were all selling points.

“No day is the same,” he says, “which is one of the reasons why I love this career.”

For Kopas, there is no such thing as a regular day at Purchase College. He tells how he comes to work with a good idea of what his day will entail, but within the first five minutes, nothing is going to be the same for the rest of the day.

“And within the first five minutes you might get that phone call,” he says, “which just alters your day, immediately.”

As director, he spends a good chunk of his day in his office. Administrative work, emails, budget stuff, you name it. It is up to him to make sure everything is running smoothly.

Kopas at his desk, surrounded by administrative work (photo by Isabella Martinelli)

Kopas oversees facilities operations, which are the day-to-day operations on campus, such as grounds management, heating and cooling, plumbing, and electrical. He also oversees capital planning, which is all construction and projects.

His other responsibilities include campus sustainability, environmental health and safety, and surprisingly, the mailroom.

“The mailroom is another random thing that was added to me two years ago,” he says.

His coworker Lukas Gunderson was assigned by Kopas to take over the mailroom, and Kopas says it is running pretty smoothly these days.

“Luke Gunderson is doing a great job down there trying to settle things down, reorganize, just kind of try to move forward.”

Lukas Gunderson, assistant director of quality assurance, has been at Purchase for five years.

“I have worked as a direct report to Mike for the entire five years I have been with Purchase,” he says.

According to Kopas, Gunderson is hard at work down in the mailroom. He is implementing many changes that help students, as well as behind-the-scenes changes with deliveries and COVID support.

“I’ve got an amazing hard-working team here,” says Kopas. “I'm not an expert in everything, that's why we have people here that are experts in things. I just try to keep the ship straight.”

Like his love for trees, Kopas is also a huge nature guy. He regularly enjoys hiking and kayaking. He grew up in a camping and road-trip family.

“I don’t think I flew on a plane until I was like in college,” he says.

One childhood trip that particularly stuck out to him was driving to California, the most northern way and hitting all the national parks. From California, his family drove back to New Jersey on the southern route and hit all those national parks. “That got in my blood,” he said.

He’s since continued the road trip tradition with his children.

“My kids and I are big road trip kids,” he says. “We would drive anywhere.”

Kopas has twins who just entered their freshmen year of college, so he thinks of himself as a bit of an empty nester at the moment.

“Having my whole weekend to myself is crazy,” he says.

Along with nature, Kopas enjoys sports. Watching sports, going to games, he loves it all. As a proud alum of Rutgers University, he is also a football season ticket-holder. Seven times a year Kopas meets up with his college friends to watch the Scarlet Knights play. He appreciates these moments with his friends.

“Otherwise, we wouldn’t be getting together,” he says, “because life goes on, right?”

Rutgers is located in New Jersey, where Kopas still lives. He commutes to Purchase every morning.

“I’m a Jersey boy!” he says proudly.

His morning commute takes a little over an hour. With traffic, the commute home is an hour and a half. He does not mind the drive.

“Driving kind of relaxes me, it really does,” he says.

He uses the extra time to listen to audible books and think about the day.

The facilities building, hidden in the trees (photo by Isabella Martinelli).

“It gives me a chance to think about the day coming up, try to plan as best as possible until it’s shot to oblivion by something else that came up,” he says. “And on the way home, [a chance to] think about the day a little bit, take mental notes of things I have to address the next day.”

In addition to all the behind-the-scenes work he does on campus, Kopas is influential in other areas as well. The journalism department, to name one. As far as finding sources on campus, Kopas is a great one.

“He is absolutely reliable in terms of getting back to students,” says Journalism Professor Virginia Breen.

The journalism department has yet to hold their annual town hall meeting, where key figures in administration and department heads on campus will sit down and hold a forum with the journalism students.

“This year has been a kind of an exception because there’s such a turnover in staff,” says Breen.

Luckily for Kopas, there will most likely be a meeting this Spring semester. Even though he and his colleagues were peppered with all kinds of on-the-record questions, Kopas found the meetings enjoyable.

“It’s the chance to interact,” he says, “and also, it gives me a chance to answer questions and let people hear answers that are hard to get out. Because communication is hard on a college, nobody reads emails. Nobody reads emails!”

The meetings also give students a chance to put faces to names, or even just learn the names of those who control the behind-the-scenes on campus.

“When I say behind-the-scenes, that’s usually a good thing,” says Kopas, “because if you stay behind-the-scenes of my world, it means everybody’s pretty much doing their job.”


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