NEW INITIATIVES BRING VALUE TO CLASSROOM
BY DEBRA WOOD
Focused on preparing the next generation of construction professionals, the AGC Education and Research Foundation has responded to needs identified by AGC and Associated Schools of Construction (ASC) members and launched two new initiatives—a faculty internship professional development program and authorship of construction management case studies.
“Our industry is changing, becoming more sophisticated, more professional,” says Bob Bowen, chair of the Klinger Research Committee of the AGC Education and Research Foundation and chairman of the board of Bowen Engineering Corp. in Indianapolis, an Indiana Construction Association member. “The leaders in construction companies are coming from colleges.”
The foundation teamed up with ASC to create programs to enrich construction students’ learning experience. The AGC/ASC Task Force sub-group of the Klinger Research Committee has spearheaded the new efforts.
“The AGC Foundation can be a leader in developing educational help for professors,” Bowen says.
The faculty internship program enables construction faculty members to gain experience through summer internships with AGC member companies.
“A faculty professional internship provides real-life experience and practical, up-to-date knowledge that we can immediately use in the classroom,” says Rebecca Mirsky, PhD, associate professor of construction management at Boise State University in Idaho and co-chair of the AGC/ASC Task Force. “Textbooks are great, but being able to share actual, recent project experience with our students has incredible value and helps us better prepare our graduates for their future careers.”
The task force contacted department-level professionals to champion the program. This not only helps the industry, she says, but also schools, that must maintain their accreditation and demonstrate collaboration with the industry. AGC members participating in 2011 and 2012 include Pepper Construction with Purdue University in Indianapolis, Bowen Engineering with Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston and JE Dunn Construction in Norman, Okla., with the University of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.
Pepper Construction hired Jessica Anderson, PhD, a clinical assistant professor in Building Construction Management at Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., as a 2012 summer intern, so she could observe field operations and work on tenant turnovers, weekly project reports and in other capacities while assigned to the Fashion Mall remodeling and expansion project.
“It went well,” said Bob Eckl, vice president of Pepper Construction. “It was designed for her to see how processes worked in the field, and she participated in coordination meetings.”
Anderson’s prior experience focused mainly on residential construction.
“It helped to see the difference and similarities between residential and commercial construction,” Anderson says. “When I teach core classes, it helps to give examples in residential and commercial.”
INTERNS CHANGING TEACHING PRACTICES
Bowen brought in Rogelio Palomera-Arias, PhD, an assistant professor of construction management at Wentworth Institute of Technology’s Department of Construction Management in Boston, in 2011, to work on Bowen’s Clifty Creek Flue Gas Desulfurization Superstructures Project in Madison, Ind., as a field engineer, working with mechanical contractors and millwrights.
“It gave me a new perspective on the way we teach and we grade,” says Palomera-Arias, explaining that “partial credit” for partially correct work is not good enough in the field, where incomplete or almost-right solutions lead to financial and time losses. “We encountered that. We were ready to set down a machine, and the hole didn’t match. We had to send it back and had a delay of two weeks, which affected the cost.”
That observation led Palomera-Arias to reinforce an emphasis on no partial credit for his students. He also witnessed the value teamwork, as well as individual knowledge, contributes toward bringing a job in on time and within budget.
The intern experience helped Palomera-Arias design different laboratory exercises to make them more relevant to construction management, for instance, reducing the engineering design problems and increasing the construction, management and plan-reading problems. He also introduced new lecture topics, such as labor and equipment assignments and distribution among trades; temporary mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) installations; and assemblies and prefabrication of MEP subsystems.
John Dettman, operations manager at Bowen Engineering and acting project manager on the Clifty Creek job, says Palomera-Arias was able to jump in and start working immediately as part of the team.
“When we hire a faculty intern, he lands running and goes to work,” says Bowen, whose company, typically, hires 30 interns each summer. “When we hire college interns, it takes a week of indoctrination and education to get them up to speed where they can be contributing.”
MUTUAL BENEFITS IN OKLAHOMA
Structural engineer Lisa Holliday, PhD, PE, an assistant professor in the Construction Science Department at the University of Oklahoma, has interned for two years at JE Dunn, a member of multiple chapters including AGC of Oklahoma Building Chapter. The first year she gained general construction management experience while working on bid packages, scope development and pre-construction estimates for a data center at the University of Oklahoma.
“It was enlightening to be on the other side,” Holliday says. “It gave me a lot of insight into what structures the students needed and wouldn’t need and helped me hone the direction of our structures series.”
In 2012, Holliday focused on building information modeling (BIM), so she could add more BIM content into the university’s structures series. She participated on the same JE Dunn team and was able to experience the wrap up of the project she had started on in 2011 while building an AutoDesk Revit model for the structural components — concrete and steel — for a radar innovations laboratory at the University of Oklahoma. Holliday worked closely with JE Dunn’s BIM expert and project engineer Malcolm Coetzee, a University of Oklahoma graduate.
“The student became the teacher and the teacher the student,” says Bobby Snyder, vice president of JE Dunn. “Malcolm spent a lot of time tutoring her on the modeling effort in how we use modeling in construction. We might use it in a slightly different form than the design team might. We were really pleased with the marriage.”
Holliday says she now feels comfortable with Revit and introducing it to students.
“It was great for us,” Snyder says. “Lisa took a little workload off and helped do something we do any way, without taxing Malcolm.”
Additionally, Snyder says the internship program has opened up new lines of communication between JE Dunn and the university and opportunities for students, such as company tours.
Faculty interns continue to earn a salary, supported equally by the contractor member, the AGC Foundation and the university. Costs also may include travel or living expenses.
Bowen explained that supporting faculty has a multiplier effect, because each teacher will reach so many students and share their intern experiences.
SUCCESS IN 2013
The foundation is accepting applications for the 2013 summer internships through January 7, 2013. Applicants must identify a specific skill or knowledge to be gained and the participating partners.
Palomera-Arias and Holliday say they would encourage other faculty to take advantage of the internship opportunity. Anderson recommends that faculty stay current with the industry and build industry contacts.
“It’s a good experience,” Palomera-Arias says. “I personally enjoyed it and was happy to be there. It’s important that the team you are working with accepts you and helps you, and the faculty must be open to do anything. You shouldn’t go with a fixed idea. … The workers liked that I was willing to get my hands dirty, get down on my knees and work up a sweat. It makes it more friendly, and I learned a lot.”
Dettman credits Palomera-Arias’ willingness to learn and be out with the crews with contributing to the success of the internship. In addition, he recommends staff leadership and the intern talk upfront about goals and expectations.
INDUSTRY CASE STUDIES
Also under way is the development of a 20-page case study, which will be used to teach construction courses at universities and AGC members’ continuing education classes.
“It’s an opportunity for the AGC Foundation to become a leader in construction education,” Bowen says. “That will help AGC and the industry. It’s the only way to go.”
The case study task force, headed up by John Schaufelberger, chair of the Department of Construction Management at the University of Washington in Seattle, met with Harvard University professors, developers of the popular Harvard Business School Case Studies, to learn more about their processes and glean development tips.
The task force then solicited proposals for a construction management case study. The task force received 13 proposals and settled on one suggested by Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, entitled “Ethical Situations in Construction Project Management.”
“Everything is not black and white, so we are dealing with gray issues students will face when they graduate,” Schaufelberger says.
WHAT’S IN STORE
Bowen says looking ahead, the Foundation needs to be sponsoring construction professionals working as adjunct professors. He currently teaches at Purdue University in Indianapolis and said students enjoy learning from someone with real-world experience.
“The AGC Education and Research Foundation can help fund, promote, sponsor, and sell getting practitioners out of the field and into the classroom,” Bowen says. “There are so many opportunities. Internships and case studies are just a beginning.”
Faculty scholarships and adjunct professorships are the next steps.
“It’s going to benefit the industry big time,” Bowen says. “The Foundation will be the beneficiary in terms of our reputation and leadership. This is opportunity time for the AGC Foundation. … But the best is still ahead of us.”