New Heavy Civil Engineering/Construction Management Minor Created in Response to Industry Demand

Deans from the College of Engineering and College of Architecture and Environmental Design recently posed with a Cal Poly team that won first place for Heavy Civil in the Associated Schools of Construction competition, held in Sparks, Nevada. Pictured are, left to right, College of Engineering Dean S. Amy Fleischer; Philip Barlow, interim co-chair of the new Granite Heavy Civil Minor; Kyler Cruz; Tony Roberts; Sean Stratton; Justin Reno; Ryan Nielsen; Logan Smith; College of Architecture and Environmental Design Dean Christine Theodoropoulos; and Hani Alzraiee, interim co-chair of the minor.

Granite video with captions from College of Engineering on Vimeo.

A $3 million donation from Granite Construction helped establish a new, groundbreaking minor combining elements of heavy civil engineering and construction management.

The Granite Heavy Civil Minor, a collaboration between the College of Engineering and the College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED), will better prepare students for an evolving industry that is currently combining elements of design and construction.

“In modern construction, design and construction practices are integrated more than ever,” said Hani Alzraiee, an assistant professor in the Civil Engineering Department, who is the interim co-director of the minor. “Providing an opportunity for civil students to work with construction management students is a unique experience that helps them thrive in the heavy civil industry. This minor expands the scope of the Civil Engineering Department to cover heavy civil infrastructure and industrial projects.”

Phil DeCocco, senior vice-president of human resources at Granite Construction, talks with College of Engineering Dean Amy S. Fleischer. Granite was a driving force behind a new heavy civil and construction management minor.

Granite is the only sponsor for the minor, which came about due to industry demand. Both Caterpillar and the Beavers Heavy Engineering Construction Association also donated $1 million apiece for endowed professors and scholarships.

Heavy civil engineering typically involves the design of major projects, such as airports, subways, dams and highways.

“Our construction management program has traditionally been focused on commercial construction – vertical construction – and this minor gives our students the opportunity to focus on horizontal construction,” said Philip Barlow, a CAED professor and an interim co-chair of the minor with Alzraiee.

In the past, design and construction were more separate, Barlow said, with construction companies bidding on projects after the design process was completed. “It’s almost impossible to imagine today, but standard practice was to not involve contractors in any of the design or engineering process — they were simply handed a set of plans  and told, ‘Go build it.’”

Through the years, construction companies have become more involved in the pre-construction. A minor like this exposes students to the entire construction process.

“I am excited to be a part of the heavy civil minor because it opens myself up to so many more possibilities with my future that I could pursue,” said Greta Stout, a construction management major. “I used to be set on going into commercial construction and working on huge skyscraper projects for my entire career, but now I’d like to work on an airport site or maybe bridge construction.”

Cal Poly students in safety gear visit an infrastructure project and survey the construction process.

Like Stout, David Webster, a civil engineering student, is interested in working on airports.

“Airport projects fascinate me because of the sheer scale and coordination between different subfields of construction and engineering,” he said.

“Right now, the job market for such careers is strong, offering excellent salaries,” Barlow said.

“With decaying bridges and roadways needing repairs and growth, the heavy civil industry is going to continue to go gangbusters, regardless of whether there’s another dip in the economy or a recession,” he said.

Hani Alzraiee, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering, will act as interim co-chair of the new minor.

The first class will include 22 students, half of which are female. Twelve of the students are civil engineering majors, the other ten construction management students. The competitive program is expected to accept 24 students a year.

Each student will have a paid internship. An advisory board made up of heavy civil contractors will provide support and resources, and Granite will ensure that all students get internships.

“This is an excellent example of why industry partnerships are so crucial to our success,” said College of Engineering Dean Amy S. Fleischer. “We listen carefully to what industry tells us because they know what the current workforce needs are, and with that information, we can make sure our students are prepared to meet those needs.”

“The program will also serve as an employment pipeline for an industry that serves critical infrastructure needs,” said CAED Dean Christine Theodoropoulos.

“We’re fortunate to have the support of companies like Granite, which understand the value of education that prepares graduates for careers,” she said. “Knowing that our students are tomorrow’s leaders, industry partners see their support as a prudent investment.”