Students at Alfred State College in upstate New York enter college knowing they are bound for a technical career. That’s why they chose the school, which offers two and four-year degrees in areas like agricultural technology, criminal justice, and cyber security.
Many students also matriculate to the school for construction-related degrees such as construction management and construction supervision.
“Initially, I wanted to study civil engineering, but I had always been interested in the hands-on aspect of engineering.”
“Initially, I wanted to study civil engineering, but I had always been interested in the hands-on aspect of engineering,” says Carina Scalise, who will graduate this year with a degree in construction management-engineering technology. “During my school search, I stumbled upon construction management, and it sounded like a really good fit for me.”
Scalise can trace back her interest in construction even further. “My dad is a project manager, so I’ve been exposed to the pros and cons of the industry for a long time. Construction’s interesting to me because no two projects are alike, and it’s cool to see a concept on paper become something real, and to be a part of it.”
A competition makes students think like professionals
Scalise was a member of Alfred State’s Pre-Construction team at this academic year’s Associated Schools of Construction (ASC) Region 1 competition, held in Albany last November. Region 1 consisted of 35 teams from 16 schools in the Northeast; altogether, there are seven regions across the U.S. and an eighth for international entrants.
The college partakes in the competition every year. This year, Alfred State teams competed in the Pre-Construction, Commercial and Design-Build categories—and placed third out of seven schools in Design-Build (they were the only public school to place).
Amber Barnhart ‘18 was part of the six-member Design-Build team. Barnhart is finishing her Bachelor of Architecture degree, with a focus on construction management. “I think it’s important for architects to be able to communicate with workers and understand what’s happening in the field.”
Alfred State Architecture and Design Professor William Dean says Mitchell Design Build in Rochester invited the team to their offices ahead of the contest for some mentoring, and Dean himself prepared them as much as possible. In the contest, however, they were on their own.
The students used state-of-the-art Revit BIM software for their conceptual design and Lumion for the renderings.
“They designed an aesthetically pleasing, functional building and produced a cost estimate and construction schedule in just a few hours,” Dean recalls. “This might take days or even weeks to complete in an office.” The students used state-of-the-art Revit BIM software for their conceptual design and Lumion for the renderings.
Alfred State’s Pre-Construction team was all women this year, a first for any team participating in Region 1 ASC competitions. “That’s something unique about our school—we bring a lot of women to this competition,” says Erin Vitale, chair of the Civil Engineering Technology Department and the team’s advisor.
Feeding a hungry labor market
Most construction management majors at Alfred State aspire to become project engineers and ultimately project managers, according to Vitale. She likes to think the school is doing its part by feeding more trained and talented bodies into the industry every year, whether they are bound for trade or managerial positions.
“Basically, the whole industry from bottom to top has a massive shortage of people, from the laborer who doesn’t require any advanced training to operating engineers, management, and superintendents,” says Vitale.
She likes to think the school is doing its part by feeding more trained and talented bodies into the industry every year.
Alfred State attends multiple college fairs to showcase its offerings, and events like the ASC competition can also help get the word out about construction careers, Vitale notes. “What we really need is for people to consider all of these careers. Any sort of publicity you can get for the industry is worthwhile and can get some kid in high school to say, ‘Hey, I’ve never thought of that.’”
Bound for good jobs, and good compensation
Part of the State University of New York system, the school also offers associate’s degree programs for trade positions like heavy equipment operation, masonry, welding, and electrical construction. Of its 3,750 students, about 750 are currently working toward construction degrees (with around 425 of those studying the trades).
“If you’re outside of the loop, construction may just not be on your radar.”
“Most people get into the industry because of a family member,” says Vitale. “If you’re outside of the loop, it may just not be on your radar. It’s kind of sad when our [construction] grads earn between $45,000 and $65,000 with almost no experience, and we have students in other majors who don’t even get jobs—or they do something unrelated at a half or a third of the starting salary.”
Scalise has a project engineer position awaiting her after graduation at a general contractor in Washington, D.C. She found the job through the ASC job fair after the contest, but had learned of the company back in her freshman year, when they spoke at a dinner for women in non-traditional studies. Currently, the Construction management major consists of between five and ten per cent women.
Alfred State’s web page for their construction management major quotes CP Ward CEO Dick Ash, who calls Alfred State his alma mater: “Alfred grads have always been a great investment for C.P. Ward, Inc.”