The Construction Engineering Management (CEM) program welcomed a total of 55 new students during the August 20th and August 21st Graduate Orientation. CEM hosted its fourth ever virtual online Boot Camp due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In the past, students attended in an on-campus forum to meet the CEM faculty, staff, and their new classmates face-to-face.

Screen capture of the zoom virtual meeting.

The Boot Camp experience marks the official start of a track of study in which students will take five semesters of online graduate courses to earn a Master of Engineering (MEng) degree with a concentration in CEM. The 19-month degree is offered through the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering (CCEE) and the incoming cohort of students who attended the fall 2021 occasion are pictured above.

This is the 27th formal Boot Camp held by CEM since its inception as an online program in 2009. Since then, CEM has continued to thrive with over 686 alumni, and has received national recognition by US News and World Report for excellence in online engineering education. The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Engineering was ranked No. 1 in the nation for its online construction engineering management concentration in the Master of Engineering Program, according to the 2020 Online College Rankings Consensus. In previous years, the degree program ranked in the top ten by Online Masters for one of the best online master’s in construction management, and also recognized by the Affordable Colleges Online for affordability in online engineering education.

dr. wesley zechDr. Wesley ZechTo begin the morning session, Dr. Wesley Zech, CEM Director and CCEE interim Chair, congratulated the new students for being accepted into the graduate program. Dr. Zech says, "By earning an advanced degree in CEM you will be well positioned to capitalize on many different future career opportunities. The construction industry has about 680,000 employers, 7.4 million workers, accounts for about 4% of the U.S. GDP, and is expected to grow further.

I am excited for you to begin your graduate education and that you have selected UAB as the institution to provide that real-world educational knowledge in the field of construction, engineering, and management."

Zech briefly introduced the CEM faculty, staff, and others that would present during the two-day gathering.

dr. jeffrey holmesDr. Jeffrey HolmesDr. Jeffrey Holmes, M.D., the Dean of the School of Engineering, welcomed the cohort saying, "We are very glad to have you with us today. The CEM program is our highest ranked educational program of any within the School of Engineering. It was ranked first for the best Construction Management online program by College Consensus, so we are very proud of our success.

Birmingham is a real hub in the construction industry and most of our undergraduate’s intern with these in town companies. This industry support has helped shape our identity as a university and who our students are, including our online graduate students. I look forward to what each of you will do within the CEM program and beyond.

I am going to stick around and listen to student introductions to learn more about you."

Zech then asked that each student introduce themselves, state where they are from or currently located, and to give a few words that describes who they are. This allows students to connect with their peers, encourages collaboration during the term, and to network throughout the program duration.

CEM students introducing themselves over Zoom

dianne gilmerMs. Dianne GilmerMs. Dianne Gilmer, CEM Director of Student Affairs, discussed the overall 19-month CEM Experience. The diverse group in this fully online program learned what they can expect from the CEM degree program, what CEM expects from each graduate student, UAB policies and the Academic Honor Code, the CEM student attrition rate, time management skills, and other helpful guidance to promote student success.

According to Gilmer, "This was CEM’s fourth virtual Boot Camp since Covid-19 forced us online. It’s amazing to see how comfortable the students are in the online setting. Due to the pandemic, almost all meetings have been moved online. The awkwardness and lack of protocol that once existed, are no longer issues. Being online also saves the students time and money because they do not have to travel to Birmingham. We feel it’s a real win-win, students can meet the CEM Faculty and Staff, as well as, their peer group from anywhere in the world in the comfort of their own home or office."

Students were asked by Zech what motivates them to pursue a graduate education. The polling software used captured the student’s anonymous responses from their devices and a few are shown below:

  • “Career advancement”
  • “Professional improvement”
  • “Job security”
  • “Advanced knowledge”
  • “Salary increase”
  • “Mobility”
  • “Family”
  • “New career path”

Allen MurphreeMr. Allen MurphreeMr. Allen Murphree, CEM Instructor, offered students an introduction to technology and computers, and ways to be successful in the fully online CEM program. He provided a brief discussion and some examples regarding the navigation of the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS), weekly course content for lecture notes, recorded lectures, procedures for online assignment submissions, and notification settings.

In addition, Murphree explained proper communication methods through the use of discussion boards and student UAB email addresses. He also conveyed the importance of good computer organization, required computer equipment and system requirements, scheduled computer updates and maintenance, the installation of required educational software, and who students should contact for technical support.

Fran LefortMs. Fran LefortMs. Fran Lefort, CEM Instructional Designer, provided more detailed information regarding the Canvas course shell navigation, the location and benefits of the dynamic syllabus, upcoming assignments and how to receive calendar reminders, and ways to enter the virtual classroom.

She then walked students through the hands-on process of actually entering their current online CEM classes, demonstrated an example of a Zoom live class session, and methods to play recorded lectures. The graduate students were then asked to actually complete their first sample assignment and sample assessment, and to submit each to the Canvas submission link.

Finishing the morning session, Lefort discussed the importance of the online examination proctoring procedures, how to create an account, methods to schedule a midterm and final examination appointment, steps to install the required proctoring software, and how students can verify their internet upload and download speeds.

Jason KirbyDr. Jason KirbyDuring the start of the afternoon session, Dr. Jason Kirby began reviewing course content for the sustainability and green building practices course. Kirby defined the fundamental nature of sustainability and what qualifies as a green building material. By conducting a hands-on exercise about houses, he helped students understand the importance of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) principles and development as it relates to building size and scale, solar orientation, materials and color selection, and other energy saving technology. Kirby also talked about the design priority differences between an architect and an engineer, where one was concerned about function and aesthetics, and the other focusing on whether the structure would be strong and not fail.

Mr. Pat O'MaraMr. Pat O'MaraFinishing day one, students received public speaking training from professional speaker and author Mr. Pat O’Mara. O’Mara covered “The Top Ten Ways to Present like a Pro”, which addresses things like various types of introductions, verbal and non-verbal presentation content, posture, eye contact, tone and inflection, overcoming nervous anxiety, time management, using visual aids, and understanding your audience.

O’Mara also had students participate with a few fun group exercises that demonstrated how to monitor audience behavior, capturing and maintaining their attention while presenting, handling questions, and ending the presentation.

Students began day two presenting their live “icebreaker” presentations, which is just one of many public speeches required during the CEM curriculum. The construction industry relies heavily on good oral communication skills and on a daily basis. In general, the presentations were very interesting and students correctly implemented the public speaking techniques learned during day one.

icebreaker presentationOverall, the virtual online orientation was a successful event and well received by everyone. According to Gilmer, “There are many benefits students take away from the weekend. As mentioned earlier, they get to interact with UAB personnel and their peers, as well, becoming orientated on Canvas, program expectations, and other suggestions to help them achieve academic success. Throughout this educational journey, students will learn about relevant, real-world topics, receive training on several industry-standard software programs, be encouraged to critically think and problem solve, and develop enhanced time management skills. We promise to meet students where they are and help them achieve their career goals, their aspirations, and to stand out in the global marketplace.”

The cohort was asked what they liked most about attending the virtual Boot Camp. The polling software recorded some of the responses as shown below:

  • “I feel more comfortable with my peers and knowing what to expect in the classroom.”
  • “This program has a family feel to it.”
  • “Lots of experienced professionals to learn from, students, and faculty.”
  • “What the expectations are and how to stay organized.”
  • “Getting to know classmates and instructors.”
  • “The direction that was given to navigate the systems like Canvas, Proctor U, etc.”
  • “I am excited to begin and feel more prepared to enter the program.”
  • “Some expectation, some tips for successful practices, and lots of things not to do.”

Closing out the event, Zech made the following comment about the student responses, “Boot Camp is designed to provide the relevant information needed for you to successfully hit the ground running once the semester begins, and it is great to see that you all perceive Boot Camp as a beneficial event.

Remember that the time invested in yourself now will pay dividends in the future as it pertains to your career growth potential, so I encourage you all to devote the time necessary to perform well in all of your courses.

Congratulations again and I will see you in class!”

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BioHorizons is a Birmingham company whose history is rooted in UAB. Today, thanks to a growing and successful co-op program, it appears that BioHorizons and UAB will continue to be linked far into the future.

The dental-implant company, which started as a spinoff of research from the UAB Schools of Engineering and Dentistry, has hired more than a dozen UAB alumni and students over the past 28 years. More recently, though, its co-op program has begun to bring in current engineering undergraduates—creating a talent pipeline for students to get a head start in a growing industry.

“Hands-on experience has always been a key element of engineering education,” said Neil Adams, director of the Engineering Career Center. “The success of our program depends on strong co-op and intern partners, like BioHorizons, who offer quality experiences to our students so that they apply their engineering knowledge while also learning how to be a contributing part of a professional organization. We are proud of this continued partnership and look forward to supporting Blazer engineering co-ops at BioHorizons for many years to come.”

A Blazer Legacy

BioHorizons was started in 1995 by the late Martha Bidez, Ph.D., then a faculty member in the School of Engineering who would serve as the company’s first CEO before selling the company and returning to UAB in 2009. Over the years, the company has hired a number of UAB alumni, including several members of its leadership team (see sidebar).

In 2016, however, the company’s ties to UAB got a little closer when Ashley Boggs became the first UAB undergraduate to join the BioHorizons co-op program—a program that provides students the opportunity to work full-time at the company for three semesters, alternating with school. The experience is paid, and students work alongside engineers throughout their time at the company.

Boggs extended her co-op by working part-time at the company until she was hired full time after she graduated in 2018. Today, she is a Digital Dentistry Engineering Manager, and she credits her co-op experience for opening her eyes to possibilities she had never previously considered.

“I had a vague idea that I wanted to work with implants—like hips, knees, ankles—but I didn’t know anything about the dental-implant industry at all,” said Boggs. “During my sophomore year, I went to the Engineering Career Center and told them that I couldn’t keep sitting in class doing problems from a book. They told me about a local company called BioHorizons that was doing on-campus interviews.”

The interview changed Boggs’s personal career trajectory, but her story is not an unusual one. While the engineering curriculum prepares students for a wide variety of careers, it’s often that first on-the-job experience that opens eyes and doors to career opportunities in fields students may have never been aware of.

That was the case for UAB graduate Jonathan Gordon, another former co-op participant who now works as a packaging engineer for BioHorizons. “I started out on a pre-med track, but coming from a very small town to UAB was a big transition,” Gordon said. “I dropped the pre-med route pretty quickly and started looking for other options.”

Like Boggs, the Engineering Career Center helped connect Gordon with a co-op position at BioHorizons, and that, in turn, led to full-time employment. “I realized pretty quickly that I love this industry. It’s exciting to be a part of this.”

An Undergraduate Pipeline

Although Boggs was the first UAB student hired into BioHorizons' co-op program, she soon had company. Three other Blazers followed her into the program (Josh Moore, Karly Casey and Gordon), and all four stayed on to work full-time. That kind of retention is notable for an undergraduate experience that by its nature is often exploratory. 

“Since we started the co-op program about 10 years ago, we have had about 17-18 engineering students in our program—two of which have been in our regulatory department and the rest in research and development,” said Tom Lewis, BioHorizons manager of product engineering. “We feel that it has been very successful, and to date we have hired five as full-time employees.”

That transition from co-op to full-time employee makes sense when you consider the investment BioHorizons makes in students over a three-semester co-op. Each student must learn Quality System processes before getting down to work with tasks, such as design control, drawing release, and CAD modeling. “Each student is trained, but it takes hands-on involvement to learn all of these processes,” Lewis said. “It’s also helpful for students to experience how different departments work together for a common goal.”

In addition, students must learn industry standards and technologies in the medical device industry. “This takes longer,” Lewis said, “but over time they begin to understand the ‘whys’ behind the design of dental implants, restorative components and instruments. Although we have the expectation that co-ops produce for us, my hope is that when they look back they realize the value of their experience here, and as they move into their careers they have a head start in their understanding of engineering organizations."

“Co-op is both an investment by the company and a commitment by the student,” added Adams. “The depth of experience pays dividends in that co-op students are ready to contribute immediately at an organization after graduation.”


“I have been part of teams in which we have drawn and developed state of the art dental surgery kits that are slated to hit the market this year; I have managed drafting and conducting test plans to research the durability of implant designs; and, most importantly, I have been able to teach incoming co-ops the ins and outs of the company and guide them as they grow from a college student into true engineers.”
—Benjamin Pody, mechanical engineering student and 2nd-year co-op


Homegrown Talent

Lewis says the co-op program historically has drawn from several area universities, but he admits UAB students have one obvious advantage. “Since they are local, they already have living arrangements,” he said. “After completing the three co-op terms, students return to school to finish up and graduate.  With UAB being in town, when the opportunity was available several UAB students have stayed on and worked part-time until graduation.  The company knowledge they have has allowed them to be productive even on a part-time basis.”

While the growth of BioHorizons’ co-op program is exciting for current and future engineering students, UAB School of Engineering Dean Jeff Holmes, M.D., Ph.D., says that is just one of the reasons UAB engineers should look at the BioHorizons story with pride.

“It’s not unusual for a promising startup to spin off from university research—in this case, arising from research in the UAB Schools of Engineering and Dentistry,” said Holmes. “We often comment that these startups have the potential to revolutionize an industry. But in the case of BioHorizons, it has actually done that, and it continues to innovate and to grow. I am tremendously excited that our students are able to be a part of that continuing UAB success story.”

“At BioHorizons, we look forward to continuing our work with UAB in the future,” agreed Lewis. “We appreciate the relationship we have developed with the university that has served us well over the years.”


BioHorizons Senior Leadership

A glance at the BioHorizons team shows a number of UAB graduates among the senior leadership.

R. Steve Boggan, President and CEO

  •   M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from UAB

J. Todd Strong, Executive VP and COO

  •   M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from UAB

Mike Mills, Executive VP and CFO

  •   B.S. from UAB Collat School of Business

Andrew Baroody, VP of Sales Operations

  •   B.A. in English from UAB

Juan Jaramillo, VP of Global Business Support

  •   UAB Graduate

Fred J. Molz, IV, VP of Research and Development

  •   M.S. and Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from UAB

Elbert Jenkins II, VP of Information Technology

  •   MEng in Information Engineering Management from UAB
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