THE SUPERSTARS OF THE FUTURE SHINE BRIGHTER THAN EVER, THANKS TO INDUSTRY EXPERTS, ENTHUSIASTIC ACADEMICS AND THE ROBERT L. BOWEN INDUSTRY RESIDENCY PROGRAM
BY A.D. THOMPSON
The Robert L Bowen Industry Residency Program began in 2011. Thirty-nine professors have participated thus far, an experience Courtney Bishop, program director of AGC’s Education & Research Foundation, says is an investment in the future of the industry, one that provides valuable current professional experience that can be shared in the classroom. Residencies are paid for via a combination of AGCERF, the participating contractor or member firm and the university.
It had been years since Caroline Clevenger had worked out in the field, but it was a temp assignment out of which the associate professor and director of construction engineering and management at the University of Colorado Denver squeezed every drop.
“Occasionally, I missed being a practitioner,” says Clevenger, a licensed engineer and architect and sustainability expert who returned to school after years in the in-dustry to earn her Ph.D. “I went back because I’d wanted to get more students involved and spread the word faster.”
Now on the other side of her 2020 residency with Trimble — an international firm providing technological solutions with myriad applica-tions in robotics, mixed reality and more in the construction field — she’s well equipped to deliver brighter, better informed applicants to an industry starving for them.
For the past five years, the AGC Education & Research Foundation has been the driving force behind the Robert L. Bowen Industry Residen-cy Program, which creates and fosters partnerships between itself, the association, its members and educational institutions so that those teaching the construction pros of tomorrow can better prepare them for work on the other side of college.
“Faculty members are charged with identifying an AGC member partner that agrees to work with them during the summer months,” ex-plains Courtney D. Bishop, program director of AGC Education & Research Foundation.
For Clevenger, choosing Trimble was a no-brainer.
“I was very interested in them because many faculty members go to work for a general contractor,” she says. “I wanted to work with a company that worked with numerous GCs. I felt that working with Trimble — a technology company — was a great opportunity to learn about current technology and more broadly about the industry, rather than focusing on one company.”
Clevenger shadowed members of the Trimble team, essentially working in the role of project manager, says her program mentor, David Burczyk, whose 20-something years in the industry have taken him from architecture to liaison between design and construction to where he is now — heading up Trimble’s robotics initiative.
At present, Burczyk is doing the Trimble integration with Boston Dynamics’ “Spot Robot,” a mobile robot designed to navigate terrain and capture data safely on site. He calls himself the “chief dog walker.”
Be sure to read more about Spot in “Untouched by Human Hands” (http://bit.ly/UntouchedByHumanHands) in a previous issue of Constructor.
Burczyk saw the value in the AGC program very naturally as Trimble’s been active in similar outreaches for years.
“We have our own education department that reaches out to universities to help encourage and guide them in aligning their curriculum with what students would need most, to get them more exposure to and experience with the tech that’s being used,” he explains.
As such, moving from informal presentations to this more formal program was an easy transition. And melding Clevenger — whom he’s known for a decade — into the mix was interesting. Especially during an unprecedented summer greatly impacted by the pandemic.
“We started right as COVID was kicking in and that put the brakes on what we’d initially wanted to do, which was travel and spend time out on jobsites with customers,” he says, “but we pivoted to a more virtual model and she was still exposed to engaging with them, as well as a lot of behind-the-scenes product development working with internal Trimble teams — everything from listening to the customers’ needs to strategizing and putting together a product to meet them.”
On a microlevel, says Clevenger, the experience grew her own understanding of the state of technology, which she could bring back to her classroom as well as invite guest lecturers from Trimble.
On a macro level, it led to the creation of the Trimble Technology Lab at CU Denver.
“Because of our relationship with the company and its multitude of technologies, there is a lot we can expose our students to. The Trimble Technology Lab was really the most exciting outcome of this partnership. And now, not just the construction program, but also the College of Architecture, the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) program … and other programs using these technologies have access to the Lab.”
The Residency Program is not only helping professors and universities develop curriculum, says Burczyk, but sees students emerging into the workforce fully trained.
“The tech labs we’ve been setting up are really focused,” he says. “Contractors can tap directly into the rising talent that will be the next generation of construction leaders, people who have learned to use the tech that’s relevant.”
Even so, it evolves fast.
“Revisiting a program like this could be very valuable,” says Clevenger of a repeat run through its gauntlet. “As we reimagine higher education going forward, I think there are going to be more synergies between industry and academia. So, I could see that there’s almost a new-model possibility in the future where [educators] might be more embedded in the industry and vice versa.”
The next steps, says Burczyk, will be developing longer-term curriculum — having a teacher around helped in the data gathering process.
“She did customer engagement and interviews and put out a report and a survey in which they participated,” he explains. “What was nice is that it was coming from academia as opposed to a specific vendor, like Trimble…. They tend to be a little more honest, and that’s information we really want to have.”
In construction, both believe, we are perpetually ripe for innovation. Buildings, infrastructure, other segments are surging, all of them in search of the best and brightest employees at all levels.
“There’s a huge need,” Clevenger acknowledges, “and lots of people are looking to integrate technology in construction on a much more sophisticated level. What’s available now is orders of magnitude better than just 10 years ago when I was active in the field. The tools and technology are much more advanced, and there’s far more interest in the community for innovation.”
AGC Education & Research Foundation’s role in facilitating that innovation — in equipping the constructors of tomorrow — has been instrumental, she says.
“A cutting-edge industry came forward and my institution came forward and AGC’s Foundation recognized and promoted this opportunity. They played a critical role in facilitating a partnership that emerged and really evolved.”
And will continue to do so.
“Contractors tell us that having faculty members who are teaching their future employees join their team for several weeks is a win for everyone,” says Bishop.
AND THE NOMINEES ARE….
The 2021 industry residents are:
Kenneth Sands II, PhD, Florida Gulf Coast, Skanska Gates
Tulio Sulbaran, The University of Texas at San Antonio,
Bartlett Cocke General Contractors
Min Jae Suh, Sam Houston State University,
Anslow-Bryant Construction Company
Amna Salman, Auburn University, Bailey Harris
The application for professors interested in the 2022 program is open and they can apply here: https://smr.to/p72874.