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Creating reality-based technology training through a partnership of contractors and a community college.

When construction contractors needed personnel with technical skills in estimating, project planning, material development and safety practices to fill mid-management positions, they teamed with Northeast Mississippi Community College (NEMCC). The team called in the Research and Curriculum Unit from Mississippi State University, and a new reality program in construction engineering technology was born. The area Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) along with the State Department of Education provided funding assistance.

Set in the Southern Appalachian foothills in Booneville, Mississippi, Northeast Mississippi Community College was the likely place for successful contractors to promote and sponsor the development of one of their "own" programs. The development of a truly reality construction engineering technology program to meet the contractors' modern employment needs began in January 2000, the first program of its kind in the state. A true reality program meant the program's curriculum had to be driven by the contractors and demanded high-performance results for each student candidate. Reality to the contractors was a concept that education should be no different from the world it serves.

For students to be successful with construction engineering subjects, a high level of core academic skills was set in place. The advisory group of contractors believed that high levels of verbal and written communication, together with improved math, computer and interpersonal skills, would ensure achievement and occupational success. Another reality concept was the requirement for students to participate in paid summer internship courses. Two summer internships were added after the students complete the freshman year.

An Annual Tech Fair created in 2001 featuring "Women and Men in Construction" complemented the Construction Engineering Technology Program with a surprising turnout of companies and students participating. The need for students to talk to professionals is important if education is to have motivated students to teach. The idea of the Tech Fair came from this need. Companies sent bulldozers, safety components, engines, automobiles and displays. Local secondary schools sent students by the droves. In 2004, 1,800 students participated in the open-air event. Industry understands how important it is to get students motivated for careers. Student conversations with professionals establish possibilities and career paths.

What has changed in recent years and since the mid 1960s when career-technical programs as we know them started? Because of rising occupational standards, more career and technical education programs are mathematics/science, communications and computer based. Required learning levels for corporate world jobs in construction technology fields have risen above traditional academic major requirements. The Construction Engineering Technology program is a component of education that is continually facilitated by daily market demands.

One of Mississippi's and the nation's greatest resources is the construction industry. Because of its resourceful and forward-thinking people, Mississippi has some of the best and some of the largest construction companies in the Southeast. These companies provide a low-cost construction environment that applies to a low tax base for new infrastructure and a great resource for new industries to come to Mississippi. Construction is not just the process of moving dirt, laying pipe or placing concrete.

Many Americans hold the idea that success means wearing a suit and working in an office. While the construction industry offers many office type positions, it also depends on many people working in the field. There are opportunities with construction companies that work in a given area, all over the U.S. or around the world. The opportunities are many for those who have a good education, which includes good math, science, communication and technical training.

Northeast Mississippi Community College, along with construction professionals and business owners, has responded to the need for a solid reality education program by implementing Construction Engineering Technology. Graduates have meaningful construction careers in a variety of positions. Men and women who are in the construction profession can tell you what they have done, and they can show you the reality of the workplace.

What They Are Saying About It

"Construction Engineering Technology is a wonderful program that has very high standards and incorporates state-of-the-art technology," says Melba Morgan, academic head, Division of Mathematics and Sciences, NEMCC. "The curriculum, which includes studies in mathematics and physics, prepares students extremely well, either for the workplace or for further studies in engineering or engineering technology. Without a doubt, any student who completes this program will be very successful in his field."

According to Morgan Whitfield, president of Prairie Construction Company and a member of the Program Advisory Committee, "The CET program at Northeast provides employers with competent graduates and employees who have an education that can be placed in the workforce with minimal additional training, which brings immediate returns for the employers. The program directors and other members of the training have listened to the input of the advisory committee in raising the standards of the program to meet the construction industry needs and have instilled in the students a strong work ethic."

Positive comments also come from graduates such as Josh Harris, who is now employed with project controls at Hill Brothers Construction and Engineering Co., Inc. "I can honestly say that I did not take a single course that has not in some way been useful," notes Harris. "From Construction Layout to Public Speaking, I have found something practical from every aspect of my technology training. There is no way to expound on one certain thing about this program; it is a great tool for a construction career."

Another member of the Program Advisory Committee, David V. Dow of Trench Safety, Inc., adds, "The internship requirement of the Construction Engineering Technology program at Northeast Mississippi Community College brings the reality of workplace problems to the students. Students are able to set the value of required classes through real-life experiences, therefore getting more bang for their educational dollar. Consequently, employers get a more knowledgeable employee."

Student John W. Hendrix, who says he would recommend the program to anyone interested in any part of the construction industry, explains, "Not every situation that can occur in the construction industry can be taught in a classroom, but with the technical skills taught in the CET program, along with the application skills mid increased confidence obtained through the academic classes required for the program, any problem can be faced and solved. The time that I have spent in the program has improved my communication skills, mathematic ability, problem-solving abilities, and has prepared me for fire workforce."

Contractors provided one of their own to instruct and operate the new Construction Engineering Technology program. The college employed a former vice-president of a contracting firm with 17 years of construction experience. Ray Galliard, in a newfound role as a college instructor and program developer, immediately initiated a construction engineering environment while equipping a new laboratory and implementing the curriculum. He created an atmosphere of construction project simulation of being on the job while engaged in a laboratory setting. Planned field trip activities to construction sites directly supplemented the laboratory-based learning projects. Gaillard worked with the advising contractors to establish a baseline of academic skills for entering students.

Jimmy H. Crane, an administrator of career and technical education programs and experienced in curriculum and program development, served as coordinator and liaison for the contractor and college team to bring "reality" to the steps involved with contributing parties and agencies. Crane's objective, along with that of the instructor, was to make sure each curriculum course and each piece of laboratory equipment related and connected with students' performances and job practices on the construction site.

What they achieved, according to their student John Hendrix, is "the perfect balance of technical training and academic courses."

Jimmy H. Crane is division head of Engineering Technology and Occupational Education and associate dean of Instruction, and Ray Galliard Is Instructor of Construction Engineering Technology at Northeast Mississippi Community College.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Association for Career and Technical Education
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:It Works
Author:Crane, Jimmy H.; Gaillard, Ray
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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