Alumni Spotlight

‘Evolving’ Beyond the Classroom

Two-time SEHS graduate combines her passions for education and real estate to give back

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After retiring from teaching with the Avondale School District for 30 years, two-time SEHS graduate Maria Kopicki pursued a new career in real estate and soon-after founded a nonprofit organization to provide financial support to K-12 schools across the country. (Photo Credit: James Silvestri).

icon of a calendarMarch 28, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Trevor Tyle

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Maria Kopicki is no stranger to change. The two-time Oakland University alumna spent 30 years as a teacher before completely changing careers to focus on realty. Now a successful real estate agent and founder of her own non-profit organization, Kopicki is continuing to change the lives of teachers and students across the country.

Kopicki has had an interest in education for as long as she could remember, which she attributes to her love f0r kids and desire to shape minds. A longtime metro Detroit native, Kopicki chose OU to pursue a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, citing its close proximity to home and the good reputation of the education program. She graduated in 1989, but returned to OU the following year to earn her master’s degree in curriculum instruction and leadership with an administrative endorsement.

“Having field placements in a variety of districts and age levels gave me insight into where I thought I might want to end up,” Kopicki said of her experiences at OU. “I also was able to observe the socioeconomic disadvantages.” 

Kopicki’s field placements included work in the Birmingham, Waterford and Pontiac school districts. It was the Avondale School District, however, where Kopicki ultimately found a home — she went on to teach in the district for 30 years, before retiring from teaching in 2019 to pursue a career in real estate. 

While the change may have seemed abrupt to some, Kopicki said she had considered real estate for several years under the suggestion of friends, who thought it would suit her passion for helping people and ability to build and maintain relationships. 

“I … really felt rewarded for [the] work I did with the kids and the community,” she said of her time at Avondale. “The relationships I established with the kids and families — it has had a huge impact on my career as a realtor.”

For Kopicki, retiring from education was anything but easy. She spent “many sleepless nights” in tears, contemplating her decision, but after some of her programs were impacted by budget cuts, she realized she could still impact lives in a different way.

“I worked with numerous at-risk students and students who were economically disadvantaged,” she said. “Growing up with limited funds myself, I felt a need and desire to help those kids. … I decided I would use a portion of my real estate commission to provide funding for kids in need.” 

That decision resulted in EVOLVEK12, a nonprofit organization established by Kopicki to address the lack of funding within education and provide more equitable opportunities to disadvantaged individuals. Founded on Kopicki’s classroom mantra, “it’s all about the love,” EVOLVEK12 relies on a commission donation program in the real estate industry to provide financial support to K-12 schools across the country. Recently rebranded as “EVOLVEK12+” to include college and student loan repayment as a component, the nonprofit’s name stems from the word “love” spelled backwards, followed by “VE” for “vesting in education.”

Much of EVOLVEK12+’s success has been in tandem with Kopicki’s own personal success as a realtor. Within her first 18 months, she rose to the top of her company in sales, and has since joined a distinguished group of realtors that represents the top 3% of Coldwell Banker realtors worldwide. She is now ranked #1 in the state of Michigan for buyer-controlled sales. Kopicki is also being honored as part of the 2022 Real Estate All-Stars list in the June issue of Hour Detroit and the summer issue of Detroit Design. Since EVOLVEK12+’s founding in August 2019, she has donated nearly $50,000 of her personal commission as a realtor to the nonprofit. 

“People often ask me if I wish I got into real estate sooner since I have had such great success,” she said. “I never second guess or question it, as my husband often reminds me of the huge positive impact I had on thousands of kids over the years.”

While Kopicki’s efforts through EVOLVEK12+ have left an impact on students and educators nationwide, she hasn’t forgotten her roots. She has donated thousands of dollars to the Avondale School District and is currently mentoring four former students with careers in real estate. In 2021, she created two scholarships for Oakland University students — the Maria Kopicki Scholarship for Compassion in Education, and the Maria Kopicki Scholarship for Students Breaking Barriers and Perseverance. 

“Many people think I am crazy and have made comments when I donate 100% of my commission,” Kopicki said. “I was even asked by a few people, ‘What are you doing for yourself?’”

Her response is simple: “Joy in my heart knowing I am helping someone less fortunate, because I was that person many years ago in need.” 

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