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Degree of the Future

When you envision the construction industry, you might think of a construction site you’ve driven by recently, with people building structures out of wood and cement.

The backbone of today’s construction industry, however, is increasingly digital, with greater reliance on tools like 3D modeling, real-time monitoring, sophisticated contract management systems and much more.

In other words, you need technical skills and business savvy to succeed in the growing field of construction. That mix is exactly what students receive in UD’s construction engineering and management program, which graduated its first cohort this spring.

Recent alumnus Ryan Webber, EG21, BE21, came to UD as an entrepreneurship major and added construction engineering management as a second major. “It’s the perfect in-between between business and STEM,” he says.  

As an undergraduate researcher, Webber has worked with faculty to use drones to create 3D models of buildings and sites. “We are trying to make new methods of surveying more efficient and commonplace in the industry.”

UD’s construction engineering and management program was developed with support and feedback from industry leaders, including UD alumni who parlayed other engineering degrees into success in construction field. The new program combines engineering foundations with specialized construction skills, business courses and a co-op internship program to give students real-world experience, distinguishing UD’s program from most others.

Through a unique study abroad program in Dubai, students get to see modern marvels of construction up close, including the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa skyscraper. Students can also network through the registered student organization Construction Engineers of America and tour active construction sites—when it’s safe to do so, of course.

One of the key supporters of the construction engineering and management program is Francis “Skip” Gardiner, EG62, founder and president of Gardiner Realty and Development Company in Crofton, Maryland. After studying civil engineering at UD, he completed a master’s degree in construction engineering at Cornell University. That specialized degree helped him refine his skills in scheduling—“where fortunes can be made or lost”—as well as gain knowledge in concrete, economics, accounting, communication and more.

Several years ago, as Gardiner’s sons were looking to follow in their father’s footsteps, the Blue Hen turned to his alma mater. He approached the College of Engineering and started a fund toward a construction engineering and management program. The fund grew over time with support from other donors, and enthusiasm for the program swelled, too.

In 2010, representatives from The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company—which has recruited engineers from UD for more than three decades—met with UD engineering leaders to discuss industry trends, needs and opportunities to support the launch of a modern construction engineering and management program in Delaware.

“We were very much interested in students who had direct experience and education in the construction industry,” says Kris Satterfield, EG91, a senior project manager at Whiting-Turner.

“What we do in terms of construction is different from the pure engineering that we learned in school from the design side,” adds Joshua Fanelli, EG97, division vice president and regional manager at Whiting-Turner.

In 2016, UD hired associate professor Edgar Small as founding director of its newly launched construction engineering and management program. An expert in project management, green construction, bridges of the future and more, Small consulted industry partners to help shape the program and offer valuable feedback along the way.

“He’s very enthusiastic about what he’s doing, and he’s very knowledgeable. When you look at the program he’s put together, I think that shows,” Gardiner says of Small. Now, there are three UD faculty members: Mohsin Siddiqui, Ri Na and Small, who focus solely on construction engineering and management. 

Meanwhile, Gardiner and other alumni continue to support the program and have contributed funds for scholarships for construction engineering students. Students also have opportunities to hone their skills through internships at companies such as Whiting-Turner and others.

“That’s extremely valuable to their potential, their career growth and their decision-making,” says Fanelli. “They get to know what kind of companies they like; what they like or don’t like about the business; and they can take what they learned in the summer and apply it to their studies next semester.”

Sometimes these internships eventually lead to full-time opportunities for the student. Both Fanelli and Satterfield got their starts at Whiting-Turner as UD student interns. 

Next up: a master’s degree program, still in development, for professional engineers to bolster their knowledge, skills and credentials.

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