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Grad overcomes challenges, leads Gateway High construction

by Ace Damon

Fort Myers, Florida (AP) – Regine Cooper lives against the grain.

Growing up in the historically segregated community of Fort Myers, known as Dunbar, Cooper chose to surround himself with mentors who could help her get a quality education and start her career.

Cooper, who is black and uses the surname Re ‘(pronounced Rae), set foot in the door in a vocation that in Lee County was usually run by white men. At 23, she got a role in running part of the most expensive school ever built in Lee County with the contractor Suffolk Construction.

“There is a huge learning curve for working in construction, especially in construction management,” said Cooper. “There is so much information that you need to learn to be good at what you do. If you don’t have the mentors to guide you along the way, it’s very, very difficult. I am very grateful to have and be empowered by women, especially in my team, like Shelly Peterson and Danielle Hartman.

“It is incredible to be around women who empower me. They give me difficult tasks and believe that I have the ability to complete them. “

At the Gateway High School construction site, on the southeast corner of Griffin Boulevard and 82 State Road, Cooper wore a yellow vest, a helmet, safety glasses, gloves and a mask while taking a guided tour. It acts as a liaison between Boston-based Suffolk Construction, the company that manages the project for the Lee County school district, and the myriad of subcontractors.

The school, estimated at $ 98 million, will have 300,000 square feet, have a full range of sports fields and three floors of classrooms for about 2,000 students. It will have specialized learning centers, such as a veterinary clinic, cybersecurity training and a carpentry academy. There will be three main buildings, the largest dedicated to classrooms, in addition to the gym, cafeteria and auditorium.

With just over 50% completion, Gateway High is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2021-22 school year.

Cooper, who graduated from Dunbar High School in 2015 and won a state championship as a freshman on the 2012 women’s basketball team, said he is proud of his role in the new Gateway High gym, planning the new board floor installation and the arrival of the stands.

“I am responsible for many things you can see,” said Cooper. Think of floors, carpets, wooden floors and grandstand benches, not HVAC systems and Internet technology cables. “I receive all the information from and to the subcontractors and make sure that everything is what the architect asked for.”

Cooper got his job after a challenging childhood. Her biological father was in and out of her life, and her mother was in her life, but he did not raise her while he struggled with his own problems. Her grandmother, Earline Goodman, raised Cooper.

When Cooper was 11, Goodman suffered a stroke. This left Cooper jumping, living in different houses. She lived with her school bus driver for a while and then with several friends and teammates from her youth basketball teams.

Cooper gravitated to learn at Dunbar High and joined a program that helped her prepare and find funding for her university education at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, from which she graduated last year with a diploma in political science and a diploma in education. .

In February 2019, Cooper called Lauren Tuffo’s father, one of his traveling basketball teammates. As he approached, Pete Tuffo, Suffolk Construction’s southeastern regional president, suggested that she apply for Suffolk’s Early Career program. Cooper thanked him.

“She is incredibly smart,” said Pete Tuffo. “In addition to her intelligence, she is so motivated and focused. All aspects of your life.

It really stood out.

“Not only is Re ‘incredibly smart, she has the ability to interact with people. All kinds of people. She is really beyond her years. You can see what a great and genuine person he is. We are honored to have you on the Suffolk team.

Cooper joked that one day he would have Tuffo’s job. When that was said, Tuffo said he didn’t doubt it. Suffolk is proud of its diverse workforce, said Tuffo, with about 51% of its employees with people of color and 34% of women in the southeastern region.

“No one would be more proud if she did,” said Tuffo. “I think Re ‘will succeed in whatever she puts on her mind.”

Tuffo said he gravitated to Cooper because of his engaging personality and desire to succeed. The fact that she has these characteristics, despite her childhood challenges, just made her an even more attractive person, he said.

“So you hear her story,” said Tuffo. “So you take a step back. Despite her education and the challenges she had … everyone gravitates towards her. This contributes to who she is and her character. I don’t know if it’s because of how she was raised, or just who she is.

In the trailer that houses Cooper’s office on the construction site, two white signs hang on the walls. One has a list of tasks for her to monitor, such as ordering mirrors, sound-absorbing panels, etc. What’s behind your desk has the word of the day and quotes of the day, plus a yellow post-it with words of wisdom.

On July 29, “harlequin” was the word of the day: “used to describe something that has many different colors, usually in a diamond pattern”.

“No weapon formed against me will prosper” “It is me against me, who is your competition?” and “Don’t kill my dreams because you stopped dreaming” were the quotes of the day.

Cooper said that, being black, she said she felt she needed to work harder than her white colleagues. Daily education helped her to meet that need, she said.

“There is a lack of diversity,” said Cooper of his work. “The construction is an old white man’s business. Historically, this has been the case. They are trying to change the narrative by hiring a black woman. I am very lucky to have mentors who are women. This does not mean that there is sometimes a cultural gap here in the workplace.

“Unfortunately, this is how I feel. I always felt that way. I always felt that I needed to be perfect. I am the type of person who wants to be the best person I can be. But I also feel that there is less room for error. I don’t want to be placed in the ‘She just got this job because she’s black’ category. Or: ‘She just got this job because we need to increase our diversity numbers.’ “

“I always aspire to be one of the best artists. Sometimes I ask a lot of questions. I try to outperform, so that I can be on an equal footing. “

Cooper, who now lives in North Fort Myers, said he tries to pay for things ahead. She…

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