When you think of Nebraska City, you might think Arbor Day; after all, this scenic town is the home of the National Arbor Day Foundation and Arbor Day Farms, the home of Arbor Day Founder J. Morton Sterling. But it is also the home of the North Central Associated Schools of Construction Region IV Conference.
Every year, more than 200 construction students from 11 universities converge in Nebraska City and hunker down in Lied Lodge in a competition that tests their skills in management, communication and presentation.
“The competition embraces the true nature of a construction manager,” said Chuck Berryman, associate professor of construction management and director of ASC Region IV. “They deal with time restraints, budgets, team building, scheduling, codes, resource allocations, legal matters, etc. Students experience the ‘real-life’ adventures of a construction manager in action.”
Students compete in four areas of construction: Commercial, Heavy Civil, Design/Build and Residential. They create a mock company based on industry standards and use real plans and specifications provided by several national corporations. The teams have 18 hours to find a solution. Students are literally shut into their hotel rooms—nicknamed war rooms—while they solve the problem and create a presentation. Everything they need, from food and beverages to computers and printers, is right there with them. Every available surface is used, including beds, chests of drawers and tables.
“I tell everyone I learned more in 18 hours than I did in one whole semester,” said Nicole Karr, a junior in construction management. Karr’s team placed second in Residential and went to the National Association of Home Builders national competition.
Students spend several hours preparing for the competition in the weeks prior to the conference. They put together a pre-qualification packet, research possible solutions to a potential problem statement and prepare construction software. However, they do not know which problem statement they will receive at the competition.
“Preparation is everything,” Karr said. “Once there, you are not allowed Internet access, outside help, or even to leave your room!”
Derek Schmitz, a senior in construction systems, agreed that preparation was key. “We discussed different aspects of the proposal we were creating and talked about how we wanted to solve possible problems that could arise during the competition,” Schmitz said. His team also met with industry professionals to learn about what goes into a construction project.
Faculty serve as coaches for the teams and work with them prior to the competition. Ron Haggin, associate professor of construction engineering, coached his first team this year but has been a strong supporter of the competition for years. “The goal of the competition is to help students develop concepts and ideas about the industry,” he sa id. “Our role as coaches is to give guidance, encourage enthusiasm, help them find opportunities to learn and improve self-esteem.”
Once at the conference, coaches are not allowed to help the students. The competition begins at 6 a.m. and ends at midnight. Students must turn in six printed copies of their proposal by midnight or risk losing points. Schmitz, whose Design Build team took second place, knows first-hand what that means. “We had the proposal done two hours before the deadline, but we turned it in late because the printers didn’t print fast enough,” he said. “Next time we’ll bring more printers.”
Once the project is completed, students must present their solutions to a panel of judges, which is made up of industry professionals. Berryman said the presentation was a large component of the scoring because once students enter the workforce, they will be required to articulate their ideas and proposals. Judges also look at how the proposal was put together (did it include all the components, was it organized well, etc.) and pay particular attention to how students answer the judges’ questions.
Students who attend these competitions are more prepared to meet the challenges of a construction management ca reer, Berryman said. It also makes them more attractive to potential employers. “Companies come to these competitions to recruit students because they know the benefits and outcomes of these competitions and see the quality of the students attending,” he said.
For students, it’s an opportunity to bond with classmates and develop leadership skills. “It was a lot of work and somewhat stressful at times,” said Schmitz. “But it was a lso fun and brought out a feeling of school pride.”
University of Nebraska–Lincoln students teams placed well in the ASC Region IV Conference.
Commercial Building—First Place
Residential Building—Second Place
Heavy Civil—Third Place
The Residential team, which was coached by Charles Berryman and placed second at the ASC regional competition, went on to compete in the National Association of Home Builders International Convention in Florida. More than 1,400 students from 70 construction education programs attended the convention. The UNL team received awards in nearly every category.
Chuck Berryman: NAHB Outstanding Educator Award
Nicole Karr: Centex Homes/National Housing Endowment Build Your Future Scholarship
Ryan Robertshaw: NAHB Outstanding Student Award
Erin Royal: Women’s Council/National Housing Endowment Strategies for Success Scholarship