Schools of construction at universities are, in some ways, academic versions of trade schools, providing students with hands-on experience and post-graduate job opportunities.
At Virginia Tech, every new on-campus construction project holds back a piece of the contracted work for faculty and students to deliver. On March 19, 2020, 70 students and officials from Hourigan Construction toured an outpatient pavilion that Hourigan is building on VTU Health’s campus. Another contractor, W.M. Jordan, recently gave VT students and the dean of student affairs a virtual reality demonstration of a 600-bed dorm under construction, which overlayed what the completed rooms and amenities would look like.
Through this immersive experience, “we’re hoping to show them more than what they could learn from a textbook,” says Brandon Renick, a Virginia Tech grad who is an Assistant Project Manager with W.M. Jordan.
The relationship between industry and academia, however, can include the classroom. Over the past two years, one of the more popular courses offered in the Master’s program at Columbia University’s School of Civil Engineering has been guided by a syllabus assembled by Skanska USA’s office in New York, says Paul Haining, the firm’s Chief Environmental, Health, and Safety Officer. Several of Skanska USA’s executives, including its President and CEO, Rich Kennedy, have been guest lecturers for that course.
Students also benefit substantively from internships offered by AEC firms. Debra Pothier, Autodesk’s Senior AEC Construction Strategy Manager, points specifically to a student at the University of Texas in Austin who, as an intern, worked closely with Autodesk’s data sciences, product managers, user experience designers, and developers to assist in the development of Autodesk Construction IQ. That student, says Pothier, helped the team develop machine learning algorithms, and conducted research with construction customers and real-world construction data.
Shani Sharif first came into contact with her current employer, Autodesk, while she was a doctoral student at Georgia Tech’s Digital Building Lab. Courtesy Virginia Tech Shani Sharif.
One student’s professional journey
Academia is, without question, industry’s farm system. Skanska USA provides subject matter and lecturers to Columbia’s online Coursera platform that reaches 265,000 students. Skanska uses this as a survey pool and to attract future leaders to its firm. (A dozen of those students now work for Skanska, says Haining.)
Since May 2017, Shani Sharif, 38, has been a product line manager for Autodesk in San Francisco. Her journey to that job began about 10 years earlier, when she left her native Iran (where she earned a degree in architectural design and practiced for four year) to come to the U.S. to study computational design at MIT. She later entered Georgia Tech’s PhD program, and one of her first projects there was to develop a Masonry Unit Database for the BIM for Masonry initiative (BIM-M), which Sharif says gave her an appreciation for what’s needed in the field.
At Georgia Tech, she came into contact with Autodesk and that company’s collaboration with the university’s Digital Building Lab. She interned for the company during the summer of 2016 as a software developer, during which she created a workflow and defined set of rules for digital fabrication logic. Autodesk liked Sharif’s work, and recruited her.
Sharif’s intention, upon graduation, was to teach. She had already applied for a couple of teaching positions. Sharif had also been recruited by Katerra. Ultimately, she chose Autodesk, where she also works in Industrial Construction. (She will defend her PhD thesis on robotic fabrication this spring.)
AEC Innovators | Mar 3, 2023
Meet BD+C's 2023 AEC Innovators
More than ever, AEC firms and their suppliers are wedding innovation with corporate responsibility. How they are addressing climate change usually gets the headlines. But as the following articles in our AEC Innovators package chronicle, companies are attempting to make an impact as well on the integrity of their supply chains, the reduction of construction waste, and answering calls for more affordable housing and homeless shelters. As often as not, these companies are partnering with municipalities and nonprofit interest groups to help guide their production.
AEC Innovators | Feb 28, 2023
Meet the 'urban miner' who is rethinking how we deconstruct and reuse buildings
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40 Under 40 | Oct 19, 2022
Meet the 40 Under 40 class of 2022
Each year, the editors of Building Design+Construction honor 40 architects engineers, contractors, and real estate developers as BD+C 40 Under 40 awards winners. These AEC professionals are recognized for their career achievements, passion for the AEC profession, involvement with AEC industry organizations, and service to their communities.
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AEC firms see federal investment as historic
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Movers+Shapers | Apr 17, 2020
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Movers+Shapers | Apr 23, 2019
Steely resolve: Carnegie Mellon University fuels Pittsburgh's post-industrial reinvention
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Movers+Shapers | Apr 19, 2019
AEC angel investor
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Movers+Shapers | Apr 17, 2019
Sports teams get in the game: Mixed-use developments are using sports stadiums as their anchors
A massive mixed-use neighborhood under way in Los Angeles sets a new bar for sports-anchored development.