Each year, teams of hardworking students from across the west travel to Sparks, Nevada, for an annual contest considered to be the crown jewel in student construction management: the Associated Schools of Construction Regions 6 and 7 Student Competition.
“This is the most important competition many of our students will ever participate in,” explained Casey Cline, an associate professor and chair of the College of Engineering’s Department of Construction Management. “And the students who are participating are the students who are the most active, they’re putting the greatest amount of effort towards their career. These are our top students.”
This spring, 35 students from Boise State University’s construction management program journeyed to Nevada to join 1,413 other students and 160 faculty from 49 universities, as well as representatives from 103 industry companies, for the annual event.
Boise State has been participating in the regional competition for the past 20 years, Cline said. Students, mostly freshmen and sophomores, begin building their teams of seven each summer prior. They spend hours each week – ramping up as the competition nears – to study up on construction tactics and coalesce their team work skills. They practice mock competitions and present their work to local industry partners. In fact, many industry partners end up coaching Boise State teams.
“Before the economy went crazy, the competition used to be primarily juniors and seniors,” Cline explained. “But now, most of our juniors and seniors already have full-time employment lined up and a bunch of those people are already working, they don’t have time to do the competition. And our project managers locally like helping out these teams because they went to the same competition and they’d like to give back. It’s a very cool thing.”
“I wanted to participate in this year’s competition to learn more about the commercial industry,” said Skylar Huschka, a freshman in Boise State’s construction management program. “The most important aspect that I learned from competing is that construction requires a team that can work together to build a proposed structure. Everyone on our team had something specific that they brought to the team but everyone had to collaborate together to get our project turned in on time. After the competition was over, the competition judges explained that every little aspect is a detailed process that had obstacles that had to be overcome as a team.”
There are four competitions held in Region 6, of which Boise State is a part. Those include the problem categories of heavy civil construction, commercial construction, mixed use construction and design build. There also are an additional eight open competitions, which are open to student groups in all eight of the association’s regions.
When the student teams arrive, they immediately turn their assigned hotel rooms into working offices equipped with printers, tables, computers and whiteboards in preparation for the competition. The next morning, they meet with the corporate and company sponsors for each competition to get the plans and details on their project. The students then have until midnight that night to turn in their project detailing their building plans, any problems or hurdles they pinpointed, a schedule, an estimate, and any other information required by the sponsoring company.
“All of the competitions are based on actual completed jobs, so in the end the students will be judged by industry professionals who themselves have completed the jobs,” Cline explained. “It could’ve taken the actual company two months to put together their specs, and these students only get from 7 a.m. to midnight. They’re not even supposed to use internet access, depending on the competition. That’s one of the reasons this experience is so valuable.”
This year, Boise State teams competed in the Region 6 problem categories of heavy civil construction, and commercial construction, as well as the open categories of pre-construction, concrete solutions and sustainability.
“The most valuable thing that I learned is that there are more ways than one to accomplish a project. With each solution there also comes a host of problems associated with it. Learning how we were going to solve the problem and what kind of issues we would have to deal with was a valuable lesson,” explained Rich Wiseman, who participated on Boise State’s heavy civil construction team this year. “This competition helped prepare me in looking into details as well as working under a time crunch, The competition is high paced and every team member needs to have a role and not stray too far otherwise the team will fail. I think this competition gives a good glimpse at what the real world has to offer.”
“I feel that the competition has helped me prepare through understanding the complexity and the differences in diverse projects,” Huschka said. “Through preparing and competing, we studied as many different building types as we could. Each of these projects brought new challenges and different building techniques that had to be considered.”
The competition doesn’t end once the student teams hit their midnight deadlines of handing over their project materials. They then have the night to create and rehearse 15-minute presentations, which they will begin delivering to judges beginning at 8 a.m.
“The companies grill them. They’re basically trying to throw these guys off. It’s tough,” Cline said. “The judges get to see how students operate under high pressure, high stress, with lack of sleep. And how they conduct themselves in a social situation as well.”
Once the teams complete their presentation, they immediately join industry professionals for a networking and recruiting event – which is then followed by a career fair and an awards ceremony.
“It’s a feeding frenzy – we have 100 percent placement with all of our students,” Cline said. “We have freshmen getting full-time paid internships.”
This year, Boise State’s heavy civil team was awarded second place in the Region 6 Heavy Civil competition.
“It’s exhausting yet amazing to watch the students grow,” Cline added. “We had freshman students go this year who had hardly any classes under their belt, and now they’re so far ahead of their peers because they’ve spent all this concentrated time studying and it pays off.”