the Technology Interface / Summer97



Sonya L. Cooper
New Mexico State University


The Civil Engineering Technology program at New Mexico State University prepares students for a practical and rewarding career in a variety of diverse fields, including construction engineering, construction management, site development, public works, highway design, environmental design, and structural design. Courses are directed toward applied methods which are relevant to industry needs. Labs are associated with many of our courses to ensure a hands-on learning environment. There is a demand to expand construction engineering and construction management within the current framework. This paper describes a construction option program currently being implemented within the Civil Engineering Technology curriculum.


The Civil Engineering Technology program at New Mexico State University offers the typical courses required for a four year Bachelor of Science degree in accordance with standards imposed by the Technology Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (TAC/ABET). These courses usually have the same title as the civil engineering courses, or include terms "technology" or "applied" in the course title. It is critical that the instructor of these courses develops a program that incorporates the true meaning of these words in order to provide the student with hands-on technical training using methods, equipment and instrumentation as advised by industry.

There is a growing demand from industry and potential students to incorporate construction engineering and construction management into our existing program. The request for this type of program is not uncommon, and many schools have a construction option already within the framework of the civil engineering technology program. The resources and extra faculty required to meet this demand may be a problem, however. The TAC/ABET has descriptions of courses that should be included in a construction option program. How these courses are organized and presented is flexible. Our program seeks to provide a construction program that meets the requirements set forth by TAC/ABET and uses existing faculty and resources by a) adding course numbers with construction titles that may be taken in lieu of other specialized courses (e.g., Water and Wastewater Technology), b) making business/economics and technical elective courses requirements versus electives, c) designing the existing Senior Project and Senior Design courses as construction-related courses, and d) incorporating more materials science and materials testing into existing courses. These modifications to the existing program all involve improving and adding courses that are relevant to industry needs. The approaches are discussed briefly below. It should be noted that as in any other technology program, it is critical to know the types of positions the students will be acquiring, and the associated responsibilities, in order to prepare the optimum program for the student.

(a) Adding Construction-Related courses

There is a need for construction courses which incorporate specific design areas that the building contractor is responsible for, or that the contractor must understand because details are omitted by the design firm. These areas include repetitive framing system design, formwork design (and as a consequence, aspects of timber design), portions of foundation design, and connection design. The construction option program will substitute this course with Water and Wastewater Technology in the existing program.

Another area that requires a separate course is scheduling and cost estimating. The number one answer from contractors when asked what skills they desire from graduating students is cost estimating and scheduling capabilities. They also would like the students to have used related software. These two topics should be covered together to show the student how dependent they are on one another, and how the success of a project depends on their thoroughness. This course can address benefit/costs scenarios, depreciation methods, and other economic considerations relevant to construction costs. The construction option program will substitute this course with Applied Design in the existing program.

(b) An Interdisciplinary Approach

Management and business courses are critical for the student interested in construction management, or for prospective project managers for construction projects. NMSU is fortunate to have a reputable Business School. Relevant courses that are available from the Business School include Production and Operations Management, Purchasing and Materials Management, Quality and Competitiveness, Quantitative Decision Making in Business, Project Management, Negotiations, and Business Law. Students will take two of these courses as requirements, to replace six hours of eighteen allotted humanities and social sciences electives. Students are able to receive a minor in management at NMSU, if they are interested in taking at least eighteen credits of approved business and management courses.

Students will receive an extra surveying course in the construction option. They will take a construction surveying course in which surveying principles and practices are applied to construction surveys. Skills acquired from this course are invaluable during all phases of the construction project. This course will be taken in lieu of the technical elective.

This interdisciplinary approach gives students a chance to experience other teaching styles and learn fundamentals from areas that will complement their training.

( c ) Senior Project/Senior Design courses

The Senior Project/Senior Design three-credit course was changed into two, two-credit courses to give those students interested in construction, a chance to gain hands-on experience. These courses have been in place for two years, and have been extremely successful. The Senior Project course places students directly with a construction company to work as an intern for a specified number of hours per week, for one semester. In the Senior Design course, the student is required to design a project from beginning to end, considering all aspects of construction methods and costs. The student is encouraged to take the Senior Project course first. The method in which this course was set up, and the results from two years of monitoring this course are worth discussing.

Formulating this course involves time in the beginning that will result in minimal time on behalf of the instructor later. The presidents of construction companies were contacted and meetings set up to discuss our objectives and their needs. A Memorandum Of Understanding was written, which is an agreement between the Engineering Technology Department Head and the President of the construction company, to spell out objectives, commitments, disclaiming of liabilities on behalf of the contractor, etc. The success of this program lies in the mentoring of the superintendent of the project at which the student is placed. Experience has shown that some superintendents are hesitant at first because they do not know what to do with the student, and have enough to do to manage the project. A specific syllabus is prepared for the student with detailed responsibilities and requirements for the course. This also gives the superintendent an idea of what is expected. Also, after a week or so, it is obvious what tasks the students can assist with or do on their own. Usually, the requirements are exceeded. In every situation, the superintendents really enjoyed the program. They enjoyed being a mentor, and they appreciated the volunteer labor.

Students enrolled in the Senior Project course are already equipped with basic blueprint-reading and surveying skills. After familiarizing themselves with the project-related drawings, students assist the superintendent by taking inventory, preparing "As-built" drawings, surveying, preparing daily logs, checking submittals, ordering materials, leading safety meetings, checking job site safety, designing drainage systems, assisting in the design of omitted details, attending monthly progress meetings with the architect and owner, and observing the various construction trades on a daily basis.

To continue fostering the need for communications skills, the student is required to write a two-page, bi-monthly memo to the president discussing job progress for that two-week period, the activities the student performed, and items that the student questioned. Occasionally, students question the use of materials or techniques that they perceive as being unsafe or even unethical. This is difficult for the student because they feel that they are being disloyal to the superintendent. The student is assured that feedback is important, and the superintendent, although responsible for overseeing the project, is not responsible for how all the sub-contractors do their work.

Everyone involved in this internship feels a great sense of accomplishment. Many students have received job offers due to this internship alone.

The Senior Design course involves designing a project from start to finish, including the preparation of construction drawings using AutoCAD. The project is chosen by the student. The instructor must ensure that the scope of work is within a two-credit course time- scope, or approximately 150 hours of effort for one semester. The student must design the project using knowledge from other courses, and what was observed in the field. The student uses architectural and structural systems keeping in mind the capabilities of the contractor, their labor and equipment resources. They also analyze scheduling and cost throughout the design process. Some examples of projects that have been chosen to meet the time scope are residential homes, one-story commercial buildings, ocean mooring structures, rendering plants, agriculture processing buildings, and historic preservation projects. These designs are usually requested by family members or friends, which helps motivate the students to produce a good product.

For those students working in a civil engineering environment, and going to school, the requirements of these courses can be met through their work. A meeting is arranged between the employer and the instructor to discuss the responsibilities that the student was hired for, and the employer's needs over and above those responsibilities. The syllabus is then prepared to include those extra duties. Some examples have included extra drafting and detailing, scheduling, creating various spreadsheets and forms, writing safety plans, and the thorough checking of blueprints. The idea is to reward the student for obtaining related training.

(d) The Need for more Materials Science

The traditional civil engineering curriculum requires one Strength of Materials class. There are no materials characterization classes required. Civil engineers as a group must learn materials characterization and mechanical properties through testing. One weak link in design and construction today is a lack of understanding the materials we are designing and using. We as educators have the opportunity to introduce and characterize these materials in the related design courses: For example, spend one week characterizing steel in steel design, one week discussing reinforced concrete materials in concrete design, two weeks on highway materials in highway design, etc. Most Civil Engineering Technology courses include labs. These labs must be utilized efficiently and more often, for testing and studying various materials, including composite materials.

The Engineering Technology department at NMSU will move into a new building August 1997. This building was carefully planned by the professors and lab consultants to house state-of-the-art labs in electronics, civil, mechanical, and manufacturing technology. We are fortunate, for most technology schools have to adapt labs to existing space. It is critical, however that they do adapt the space into a safe working lab in order to accommodate the equipment that industry wants our students trained to use. The single most important goal for any technology program must involve training students using state-of-the-art equipment and lab techniques.

Construction engineers and managers are constantly involved with materials. Instructors must incorporate material characterization and testing into their plans. An updated survey with industry colleagues and a good look at your existing syllabi will most likely reveal some outdated courses that could be replaced with more relevant topics.


The above approach is outlined in the attached programs, with only the Junior and Senior years affected by these changes. The "Existing Program" is currently in place. The boxed-in courses are those courses that have been substituted with the boxed-in courses in the "Example Program".

The above changes may be implemented in many different scenarios. This example simply shows how flexible our programs can be when we try to incorporate a plan that best prepares our students, while maintaining the required accreditation format. Civil Engineering Technology departments can introduce a construction option with minor rearranging of the existing program and use of resources from other schools within the university. It is necessary to involve industry to incorporate the best, relevant material into course plans. Also, in order to best prepare the student, career goals and descriptions of responsibilities must be known, along with career opportunities.


DEGREE: Bachelor of Science in

Engineering Technology-Civil Program