To best direct teams of construction workers, site managers need to know how to do the work, too.
With that concept in mind, building construction science majors at Mississippi State are getting hands-on experience by renovating the interior of Howell Engineering Building, a two-story, 1940s-era brick building. In addition to learning theories of reliable decision making and problem solving, students are applying their knowledge in an actual work setting.
Assistant professor Tom Leathem said MSU is one of only two construction management programs in the country that offer a studio-based curriculum conducive to providing hands-on work experiences as part of the classroom environment.
“It’s talked about in construction education — that the field is plagued by a shortage of a skilled labor workforce,” he said. “When I started teaching, I saw students didn’t know the difficulties of the craft because many of them have never been exposed to construction prior to entering the program.”
The BCS program, part of MSU’s College of Architecture, Art and Design, moved into Howell about two years ago. Student interns have taken out walls, added new ceilings and put in flooring, among other related tasks.
“We received funding from the Mississippi State Board of Contractors’ Construction Education Fund, and it’ll pay for the rest of the work we’re planning on for the summer,” Leathem said. “The funds help us purchase materials and tools and pay the student workers to do the work.”
The project is part of an elective course Leathem will offer during the summer term: Craft of Construction.
“Students have to do all the preparatory work before they do the physical work; they have to figure out how much time and how much it’s going to cost. Then, they are required to apply the theory-based ideas and compare the physical activity to what they were anticipating,” Leathem said. “It’s what they’re going to have to do in construction management when they get into their careers.”
While Leathem is in charge of scheduling and coordinating the budget, he said the students are responsible for completing the work, including adding concrete and masonry, updating electrical and mechanical equipment, and installing woodwork and flooring.
“We want the students to realize what they’re doing here is implementing the master plan, not putting a Band-Aid on something,” he said. “This now is our space that the public is going to see, and it’s going to be seen by a lot of people.
“This is something our students can take pride in, and when they graduate, they can come back and show off.”
Leathem expressed appreciation to the state contractors’ board and its Construction Education Fund for giving students the opportunity to work.