Campus Construction Creates Learning Laboratory

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Faculty members Amy Javernick-Will, Bill Yearsley, and Matt Hallowell lead CEM students on a visit to the building site for CU-Boulder's new Center for Community.
The Construction Engineering and Management (CEM) program introduces students to complex construction topics in a dynamic learning laboratory.
The Construction Engineering and Management (CEM) program introduces students to complex construction topics in a dynamic learning laboratory.

Local construction projects, including those on the CU-Boulder campus, serve as a dynamic learning laboratory for graduate students in the Construction Engineering and Management (CEM) Program.

The program leverages an array of projects to introduce students to complex topics such as risk management, decision analysis, productivity enhancement, injury prevention, and the management of teams in a project-based environment. The projects, and the organizations involved with those projects, also provide a venue for students conducting research to observe work processes and test new strategies.

With support from the university and local industry, CEM students visit local construction sites, study construction documents, observe construction and management techniques, and perform cost/benefit analyses as part of their curriculum.

Associate Professor Keith Molenaar’s Decision and Risk Analysis class conducted an analysis last fall for the Williams Village 2A expansion, which looked at the probability of the new 500-bed residence hall achieving a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum rating.

During the project design phase, the students met with the design-build team and CU’s facilities management department to create a Monte Carlo simulation. The simulation showed approximately a 48 percent chance of achieving the platinum rating—a chance that could be increased to 90 percent with additional investment in a few sustainable aspects of the building, such as reducing light pollution, optimizing energy use with effective chiller controls, and achieving greater recycled content in construction materials.

The students’ work helped facilities management prioritize design decisions that would allow the university to achieve the “most bang for the buck” on its capital construction budgets, while achieving its goals for “green” buildings with low environmental impacts.

“It was very helpful for our project. They gave us really good tips on managing the risk,” says Heidi Roge, who manages design and construction for housing and dining projects on campus.

The work showcased how emerging decision tools can be used to prioritize investments, prevent losses, and select the best design and construction scenarios.

Other campus building projects that are offering active learning opportunities for students include the Visual Arts Complex that opened last fall next to the UMC, the Center for Community that is taking shape east of Hallett Hall, and the Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building that is in the early stages of construction on the East Campus.

Bill Yearsley, who joined the CEM faculty as the Nicholas Petry Professor in 2007 after a 30-year career in the civil construction industry, says he takes his Introduction to Construction students on a tour of a local project so they can get a “mental picture” of construction procedures as they start to learn about the field. Students touring a construction site observe such things as form and use of construction schedules, project delivery systems, sustainable design and building practices, site organization, safety efforts, and management of subcontractors.

While project sites give the students an opportunity to observe construction in action, the companies also serve as a lab for students to study and research the management of project teams and organizations in project-based industries.

The graduate courses Construction Organizations and Construction Quality and Safety both give students the chance to evaluate construction and engineering companies’ operations and strategies and provide recommendations for improvement. Research students also work with local companies on a variety of projects, including ways that construction companies can manage the design process in design-build projects.

Amy Javernick-Will, a new assistant professor specializing in global engineering organizations and projects, uses construction and engineering organizations and projects as the lab for her research. She studies how regulations, social norms, and culture influence the success of global development projects and works on strategies for entrant firms and organizations to acquire and transfer knowledge required for these projects.

A 1999 master’s graduate of CEM, Javernick-Will joined the faculty in January after working for six years as a design-build project manager for a local real estate developer and then getting her PhD at Stanford.

Matthew Hallowell, who joined the program’s faculty in fall 2008, specializes in construction safety research and focuses on how advanced risk modeling techniques and emerging technologies can be used to prevent injuries. He uses local construction sites as case studies to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of de-energizing high voltage line work and coordinates with the Colorado Department of Transportation to study the impact of a new mobile barrier system on the safety, productivity, and cost of Colorado’s highway work zones.

Hallowell also is using input from the local construction industry to evaluate how radio frequency identification (RFID) and ultra-wideband (UWB) sensing systems can be used to provide workers with advanced warnings of dynamic hazards.

“We believe that successful education and research involve a high degree of interaction with the local construction industry,” says Molenaar, who holds the K. Stanton Lewis Chair in Construction Engineering and Management. “New technologies and management strategies are constantly tested on local projects, and class field trips provide students with real-world exposure.”

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