Michelle Koppenhaver, an equipment operator and instructor for PennDOT's Dauphin County maintenance office, never imagined she would find herself in this kind of career.
Koppenhaver was raised on a family farm where she was constantly surrounded by hard work. Her grandfathers owned their own coal mines, and her dad was a coal bucket truck driver.
"My dad didn't want me to work around heavy equipment," she said. "But I was comfortable around it, especially knowing that I got to see different places, and didn't have to do the same thing all the time."
Twelve years ago, Koppenhaver started with the department as a temporary employee, knowing there was a possibility to move up. She was certain the work would eventually be steady, secure, and have the standard 9-to-5 hours.
After two winters as a temporary employee, Koppenhaver became an operator in the Harrisburg region, where she was mentored by a group of male employees at the PennDOT eastern training facility in Fort Indiantown Gap.
These co-workers helped Koppenhaver establish a steady foundation by teaching patience, suggesting how to do things in a less forward way, and emphasizing the importance of taking people for what they are, and working with them from that point on.
She also learned how to use equipment such as a grader truck, and loader properly, while discovering the true value of accomplishment and continuously improving along the way.
In her 12 years at PennDOT, Koppenhaver has done everything from operating graders or belt loaders, to completing crack sealing, doing road maintenance or snow removal, helping with disaster and crisis management, as well as maintaining driver safety during crashes.
Currently, one of her favorite things about working with the department is being an operator instructor because she has come full circle. In this role, Koppenhaver teaches people how to operate pieces of equipment including driving tandem trucks teaching students how to shift and do minor maintenance.
She also continues her work as an operator by doing maintenance on the roads, crack sealing, snowplow driving, grading, pothole filling, and pipe replacements.
"Being outdoors at work is wonderful, there is so much to see and do," Koppenhaver notes. "I enjoy not doing the same thing daily because the job doesn't get monotonous, like being attached to a machine that does the same thing over and over.
Koppenhaver's husband, Keith, and son, Dustin, are supportive of her career path as well. Although her family worries about her being in a dangerous job, they are also incredibly proud.
When she is not at work, Koppenhaver likes to travel, garden, do landscaping, and go to her family camp in Cameron County. She also enjoys side-by-side motorcycling and trout fishing.
Since starting with PennDOT, Koppenhaver has seen the percentage of female employees increase, and she hopes that will continue. If you're interested in our equipment operator positions or other PennDOT careers, find opportunities available near you at employment.pa.gov.