From David Allen’s perspective, the University of Nebraska is the ideal host for a top program in architectural and construction engineering.
Nebraska is the construction industry’s hub. Several of the nation’s construction giants, such as Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc., and Henningson, Durham and Richardson (HDR) Inc., have headquarters in Nebraska and recruit the most talented engineers to work for their companies, Allen said.
Someone needs to train the next generation of industry giants, and Allen believes the new Charles Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction will.
Three existing programs comprise the Durham school, named in honor of HDR’s original chairman and CEO. The school includes the architectural engineering program housed in the Peter Kiewit Institute in Omaha and the construction management and construction engineering programs in Lincoln and Omaha.
“We have a strong commitment to answer the needs of the state of Nebraska,” Allen said. “The construction industry in this state is one of the mainstays of our community.”
Gren Yuill, architectural engineering professor and the school’s interim director, said he expects better cooperation and uniformity under the new structure. Among other changes, both campuses will offer the same classes for construction management and construction engineering. Students in the three disciplines are encouraged to collaborate on design projects, a standard industry practice.
When each campus offered its own construction program, “students saw them as two routes to the same type of job,” Yuill said. “We believe we can do a better job by cooperating instead of competing with each other.”
Planning for the school began in 2002. Allen assembled a team of College of Engineering faculty to research how to structure the programs and gain support from university administration. The Board of Regents approved the new school in December 2003.
Industry leaders bought into the idea as well. In August 2005, Charles Durham and the Durham Foundation donated a major gift to the school. While the amount of the gift remains confidential, it is expected to provide perpetual program support through scholarships, endowed professorships, graduate fellowships and other enhancements. Donations to the school, including Durham’s gift, total $23 million. The University of Nebraska Foundation hopes to raise $30 million.
Allen said the endowment is the largest for any school of its kind. Both Allen and Yuill said the school’s financial resources, size and industry partnerships would attract the faculty and students needed to make the Durham school one of the elite programs in the country. The school is the largest of its kind, with nearly 30 faculty members and more than 650 students.
The college is updating each program’s curriculum. Previously, construction management classes were held in Lincoln, and classes for the discontinued construction engineering technology program were held in Omaha. Now students will take the same construction management or construction engineering classes on both campuses. Allen said the college is looking into distance education options, such as the Internet-based access grid, to offer new courses.
Jim Goedert, program director of construction engineering, said the change was long overdue. “Students ought to be able to go through a year at Lincoln and a year at Omaha seamlessly,” he said.
The architectural engineering program remains in Omaha and will not offer classes in Lincoln.
Collaboration among students is a key component of the revamped curriculum. Students are encouraged to use the design-build approach, in which a single team of architects and builders design and construct a building rather than having each entry work separately.
Tim Wentz, interim program director of construction management, said fostering a team environment was one of the goals for the Durham School.
“We wanted the school to be a reflection of our industry,” said Wentz, who led the task force. “Students will have an advantage in the workforce because they’re coming out of an environment like that.”
Goedert and Clarence Waters, program director of architectural engineering, said they also envision research partnerships in sustainable construction and building information modeling.
“We always have been connected with local industry in architectural engineering,” Waters said. “This will propel all the programs to be more connected to industry worldwide.”
Significant changes could take place at the graduate level. UNL administrators are considering the college’s proposals to offer master of science and Ph.D. degrees in construction and a master of science degree in architectural engineering.
Yuill said the effect of stronger academic programs and significant financial resources could not be understated. The combination should increase research opportunities for existing faculty and attract highly qualified new faculty, he said.
The college’s search for a permanent school director is underway. The three program directors will continue overseeing faculty promotion and tenure.
Allen said the school’s success would be measured on how it performs against the top programs in architectural and construction engineering. He said two of those programs are the Del E. Webb School of Construction at Arizona State University and the M.E. Rinker School of Building Construction at the University of Florida. “
As part of our plans to be No. 1, we are focusing on research opportunities for our faculty that will develop new and vital intellectual property for the construction industry,” he said.
The school’s structure and new curriculum mark a major change for the college, but many faculty members said they are excited about the school’s potential.
“It has the possibility of putting the state of Nebraska on the map not only nationally, but internationally, in construction,” Wentz said. “It’s a rare opportunity.”