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Students Pave the Way for a Bright Construction Future

BY LISA KOPOCHINSKI

With more than 170 AGC student chapters across the country, today’s young constructors are clearly ready to make their mark on the ever-changing construction world.

In recognizing these innovative students, AGC of America has sponsored its Outstanding Student Chapter Awards since 1975.

“AGC members have long realized the importance of engaging the upcoming future leaders, and student chapters were developed as a way to begin to build the pipeline,” says Paige Packard, AGC of America’s associate director, building division.

“AGC members believe strongly in giving back to the industry and their communities,” she says. “They recognize the importance that philanthropy has on building character, as well as building skills so the focus on charity work and community building was incorporated into this award as a reflection of the AGC membership values, but also as a way to encourage these values in the next
industry leaders.”

Annually, AGC has between seven and  12 chapters who apply for consideration. For 2016, there were seven competitive submittals. The Outstanding Student Chapter winners are selected by a panel of judges comprised of members of AGC of America’s Training, Education and Development Forum Steering Committee.

“Our applicants submit a portfolio of work that has been developed throughout the year, and that portfolio is evaluated based on the strength of their relationship with their sponsoring AGC  chapter and the quality of their philanthropic activities,” explains Packard. “Our judges carefully examine each entry and take into account the activity level of the student chapter, the complexity of the design and execution of the projects they submit, the impact those projects have on the communities they serve, and the collaboration between the student chapter and the local AGC chapter.”

THE TOP THREE
For 2016, the three student chapters chosen included Kansas State University in the top spot; the University of Cincinnati in second place; and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville scoring third place. The winners were announced on March 7, 2017, during AGC of America’s annual convention in Las Vegas. The student chapters each presented their portfolio of projects during the annual Student Chapter meeting at that event.

Kansas State University’s AGC student chapter completed a strong portfolio of projects in 2016 and has built a close working relationship with their sponsoring chapter, AGC of Kansas. The student chapter built a new recording booth called a “Story Store” for the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, Kansas. As many as 50,000 people visit the center each year, and recordings from the Story Store will be documented and held in a collection at the Library of Congress. The national association awarded the chapter $2,500 for winning first place in the competition.

The University of Cincinnati Construction Student Association also completed a number of impressive projects during the 2015-2016 school year. Among those projects was partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build four homes. The student chapter partnered with the Cincinnati CANstruction Event, building a “Finding Nemo” themed sculpture out of 4,600 cans, which were then donated to a Cincinnati foodbank. AGC of America presented the chapter with $1,500 for winning second place.

The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Constructors Club completed a series of outstanding philanthropic efforts. For example, the student chapter members spent their spring break building two houses for Habitat for Humanity in Walton County, Florida. The group also completed a new roof for a park pavilion in Highland, Illinois. The national association awarded the chapter $1,000 for winning third place.

TOP DOG
When asked his thoughts upon hearing KSU won first place, Ray Buhle, an instructor in the architectural engineering and construction department at KSU, couldn’t contain his enthusiasm.

“I was elated for our students. Each year I witness first-hand the time and effort that our students invest into our volunteer service projects. Recognition is not the reason for their active participation, but it is gratifying to see them rewarded for their efforts and commitment to community service.”

Buhle believes that KSU won top honors due to the wide range of projects successfully completed over the course of the school year—rather than for a single project. These projects included the following:

• Aforementioned Story Store recording studio that KSU constructed for K-State’s Chapman Center for Rural Studies for its “Going Home: Hidden Histories of the Flint Hills” exhibit that was displayed at the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, Kansas.
• Alternative Break service project at Taos, New Mexico from Jan. 10-16, 2016, to assist with the construction of an adobe home for the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate.
• Construction of a new Habitat for Humanity home in St. George, Kansas.
• Participation in numerous events sponsored  by AGC of Kansas, including the state and national AGC conventions.

“Our AGC student chapter is highly regarded within our college and across the university,” says Buhle. “We are a visible face of volunteer service in the community, and the efforts of our students bring recognition and pride to our university because of our active involvement.”

Buhle also points out that KSU’s student chapter prepares individuals for the working world because “our department is well connected with the design and construction industries, and our faculty  actively ‘sell’ our students to potential employers. As a result, we have historically had 100 percent job placement of our students upon graduation. The industry is well-acquainted with the quality of students that graduate from our programs, and our AGC student chapter plays an active role in skill set development.”

Mike Gibson, executive vice president, AGC of Kansas, was also pleased to hear about the Kansas State win. “Both myself and our board of directors are extremely proud of Kansas State. We have two sponsored student chapters in the state—Kansas State and Pittsburg State University—which have produced some fine young women and men out of the construction programs. Kansas State has always worked extremely hard in partnership with the industry in seeking great input from the construction general contractors and subcontractors. We have a very active Construction Advisory Council that works with both the faculty and the students year round.”

Sean Mitchell is president of KSU’s student chapter. He decided to pursue a career in construction to be a part in the modernization of infrastructure.

“The most exciting aspect of construction for me is the new age of technology that is being developed throughout the industry,” he says. “It is evident that the construction industry is constantly making new strides in the transformation of practices, and I am excited about the possibilities that will positively affect the growth of our industry. The idea that each day you are faced with new challenges and discovering ways to solve these issues is one area that appealed to me. “

SECOND BEST
Mitch Hudepohl, University of Cincinnati AGC student chapter president, says it was a huge honor to receive the second place award.

“Our organization strives to provide all of our members the opportunity to grow as young leaders, get involved in the construction industry, network with fellow students and industry, compete in construction competitions, and give back to the community.”

Coming from a family with a long history in the construction industry, Hudepohl says, “My grandpa worked and owned his own construction company; all of his sons work in or own their own construction company; and most of the men in the family either pursue careers in construction or engineering. We all start working as general laborers at a young age and ended up falling in love with it.”

As for challenges that may lie ahead, Hudepohl says the biggest one he foresees is the labor shortage and finding ways to embrace new technologies in the construction industry.

“The shortage in the labor pool means we will have to utilize new technologies to increase productivity and bring construction back to the leading edge. Construction will be changing, and it is on my generation to lead the charge!”

THIRD HERD
Dean Westerhold, president of the AGC student chapter at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, says to be awarded third place was a huge accomplishment for the SIUE Constructors Club.

“We have won numerous awards and donations over the years for our work, but  being recognized nationally by AGC was enormous for us.”

From the time Westerhold was a child he has found construction fascinating.

“Anytime I got the chance to build with my hands or run a piece of equipment, I always gave it a shot and enjoyed doing so,” he recalls. “When I was in high school, I found out about the construction management program at SIUE and have enjoyed it ever since.”

His membership in the student chapter offered him the opportunity to meet a number of people in the local community and industry.

“As long as I have been involved in the club, everyone I know that was a member had a job following graduation. Even our younger members are receiving internships early in their college career due to employers seeing the strong work ethic that our members possess.”

NARROWING THE WORKFORCE SHORTAGE GAP
Packard says membership in one of AGC’s nationally chartered student chapters offers students an extraordinary opportunity to learn more about construction; connect with other students with similar interests and career goals, further develop their abilities; and to observe at close quarters the industry in which they will work after graduation.

The chapters also help to address the industry-wide problem of the workforce shortage gap. For instance, many chapters participate and volunteer in Career Day events working with primary and secondary school students, while other chapters reach out to middle schools to talk to them about the construction industry through building games and other programming.

One of the top benefits in participating in an active student chapter that is closely connected with a local AGC is the ability to network with leaders in the industry long before they even begin their job search.

“Our students are exposed to top construction companies and their executives through jobsite tour experiences, networking events, collaboration on charity projects, and connection to internship opportunities,” she says. “Many AGC chapters host job fair events for their student chapter members. And AGC’s Annual Convention also provides a great opportunity for our students to get in front of AGC member companies.”

“While we don’t have specific data to specify the correlation between student membership and post-graduate hiring, many of our student chapter faculty inform us that a great deal of their senior students have job offers months before their graduation date due to the exposure they receive in their four years of student chapter membership.”