Advancing construction education through real-world projects

By

Monique Clement

Editor’s note: Two Arizona State University online master’s programs are helping construction and engineering professionals advance their careers by bringing them up to speed on the latest developments in their industries. Part 1, below, covers the online Master of Science in construction management. Read Part 2 to learn about the online Master of Science in Engineering in sustainable engineering.

Selecting the lowest bidder isn’t always going to be the best option when it comes to construction, though it was how business was run for decades. Considering the experience, reputation and safety records of potential builders — the methodology of alternative delivery — can lead to a better end product and satisfaction.

Understanding the ins and outs of alternative delivery and other construction management practices are necessary to staying relevant in today’s construction industry, and among the major tenets stressed in construction management.

Arizona State University’s online master’s program in construction management helps bring industry professionals up to speed on the principles needed to efficiently and effectively build tomorrow’s infrastructure today.

“In recent years, the construction industry has been observing a major paradigm shift to adopt new and emerging technologies that drastically improve performance,” said Steven Ayer, assistant professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

The School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment offers an online Master of Science in construction management through its Del E. Webb School of Construction for individuals seeking opportunity in upper management. The construction management program has more than 50 years of history at ASU, with established ties to industry, alumni, internship opportunities and professional organizations to help students get ahead.

“Many of our students are coming to us for master’s degrees because they are discovering they need them to progress further in their careers,” said Tony Lamanna, construction management program chair.

Cisco Hobbs, president of Texas-based general contractor Rogers-O’Brien Construction Austin-San Antonio region, began the 10-course online master’s degree in construction management program in January 2017. So far, the courses and working with fellow students from diverse industries and locations have been rewarding.

“Each class gives me a different perspective on what I do or in areas of business I don’t personally work in,” Hobbs said. “The other students also brought different perspectives that I benefited from and I hope they benefited from mine.”

The ASU online master’s degree in construction management courses are taught by faculty members who have previously worked in industry or for government, such as Wylie Bearup, and are research leaders in their fields, like Mounir El Asmar. El Asmar is an associate professor and co-directs the National Center of Excellence on SMART Innovations.

“Diverse faculty with diverse sets of expertise allow students to select courses based on their own interests, job requirements or career outlook,” said El Asmar, who teaches in both the construction management and sustainable engineering online master's degree programs.

Hobbs agrees the faculty experience, course content and delivery make it an impactful program.

“ASU has the right combination of faculty with industry experience, material delivery that’s accessible and organized for the online student and content that’s relevant,” Hobbs said.

The company president also notes how taking classes with a diverse group of students representing different industries and job roles helped him apply concepts to his own role and business.

For example, Hobbs is taking a facilities management course, learning about the perspective of people who own, operate and maintain the types of buildings his company constructs.

“They’re normally my clients, so it gives me the opportunity to see the development, concept, funding, execution and delivery through their eyes,” Hobbs said. “I never would have been exposed to their business perspective otherwise.”

Students also learn how emerging and cross-disciplinary technologies can be applied to the field of construction, gaining valuable perspectives from ASU faculty while studying from anywhere in the world.

For example, Ayer’s work with augmented reality technologies can have major benefits to the construction industry by increasing productivity while decreasing errors. Associate Professor Pingbo Tang’s research in remote sensing methods, field data analysis and computational simulations can also benefit construction professionals. These tools can allow professionals to predictively manage the United States’ aging civil infrastructure by quickly assessing structurally deficient bridges and identifying safe or inefficient operation and maintenance processes of airports and nuclear power plants.

While earning their degrees, online construction management students also have the option to choose a three-credit independent project where faculty mentors guide them to apply what they’ve learned to solve a particular problem they are passionate about — all on their own schedules and timelines. It’s one of the many advantages of the online program.

“The online format is intended to appeal especially to professionals and students who may not be local, but who appreciate ASU’s reputation and capability in engineering and online education,” Allenby said, adding that it also helps students with professional, family and financial obligations to pursue a degree as their schedules permit.

What differentiates ASU’s construction management program from others is its hands-on approach to education, with students working together with both faculty and industry leaders to explore actual challenges and real-time problems within the industry.

“Graduates from our best-in-class program will have enhanced management and technology skills, including those necessary for being successful in sustainable construction, technology in the built environment and innovative project-delivery methods,” said Kenneth Sullivan, associate professor of construction management.

Learning how to utilize these methods as the construction industry transitions to focus on sustainability and alternative delivery — any method of building that isn’t the traditional design-bid-build approach — will result in higher-quality infrastructure.

Construction managers have a large impact on people’s daily lives and thus a responsibility to think and build sustainably — one of many aspects of the online master’s degree in construction.

Top photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU