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Friday, May 27, 2022

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SDSU won first place in two categories — electrical; and virtual design and construction. SDSU won first place in two categories — electrical; and virtual design and construction.

Building Careers

With industry mentorship, construction engineering students earn national recognition.
By Coleen L. Geraghty

With a little help from their friends in industry, San Diego State University's construction engineering students have done more than get by — they have taken top prizes in national and regional competitions and joined the ranks of the most highly recruited graduates.

The latest victory came last week when five Aztec teams participated in the largest, most competitive national event for construction engineering, the Associated Schools of Construction competition, also called the Reno competition for the site of the annual tournament. More than 1,300 students competed in 13 different categories.

Mentored and prepped by professionals from Balfour Beatty, Bergelectric Corp., Clark Construction Group, Flatiron Construction Corp. and Swinerton Builders, this year’s contestants performed better than any previous SDSU teams and even bested perpetual winners Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Washington State University and Stanford University.

SDSU won first place in two categories — electrical; and virtual design and construction — and third place in preconstruction services.

“We couldn’t have done it without the support of the university and the local industry,” said Keith Walsh, construction engineering major who took part in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Reno competitions.
Walsh’s application for $20,000 in student success fee funds helped finance the trip for about 40 SDSU engineering students.

New level of confidence

In the annals of the 28-year-old Reno event, SDSU is a relative newcomer, having participated only since 2004. But the Aztecs have a competitive edge that other universities may not — the support and guidance of the San Diego construction management and engineering sector. Industry professionals spend months helping the students prepare and often finance travel and related expenses.

“The competitions are very tough, but they always attract the brightest of the bright,” said Karen Prescott-Loeffler, director of government relations and economic development for the San Diego chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA).

The Green Energy Challenge, sponsored by NECA affiliate ELECTRI International, is another annual event for SDSU students. It’s a nationwide competition in which the top three teams among all entrants are invited to present at NECA’s national convention in October.

In 2014, SDSU was one of the top three with its power point presentation of a virtual green energy retro fit of San Diego’s Kearny High School gymnasium.

“They fielded some very difficult questions,” said Prescott-Loeffler, who mentored the team. “Each one of them was able to calmly step up and explain why the project was going to work. It was as if they were talking to clients in the real world with a level of confidence they didn’t know they possessed.”

The results: SDSU placed second in the Green Energy Challenge (to Iowa State University) and first in the poster presentation.

Strength in diversity

SDSU’s rapid ascension as a serious contender in prestigious student competitions owes a lot to the interdisciplinary makeup of its teams, said Thais Alves, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering.

SDSU’s winning team in the ELECTRI competition included students from the mechanical, electrical and construction engineering disciplines. And although most of the Reno contestants are construction engineering majors, several students from other College of Engineering disciplines also participated.

In the Reno competition, SDSU’s virtual design and construction group included a civil engineering student, whose training in design added depth to the team, said team captain Adrian Chipres.

Paul Diaz, captain of the SDSU electrical team, said the students met weekly for months before the event with executives from Bergelectric. One of their coaches was a vice president, another, a division manager.

“I think the training we received had a lot to do with our success,” said Diaz. “Having an industry sponsor isn’t a requirement for entry, but it’s an important part of the preparation.”

Productive from day one

As the awards accumulate, SDSU students and their industry advisors appreciate the value of mentorship. But there is an even more satisfying outcome, according to Jim Ryan, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America’s San Diego chapter, which sponsors mock competitions to train participating students.

“The most notable achievement,” he said, “is the on-the-job performance of [SDSU] graduates. Most of them are working for firms in the Southern California market and are recognized by the industry as among the best young graduates available. They have obviously received an excellent education that positions them to be productive from their first day on the job.”