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The Construction Engineering Management (CEM) track of study greeted a total of 42 new students during the January 6 boot camp. Due to winter weather advisories in Birmingham, the CEM team was forced to cancel the on-campus schedule and quickly implement a virtual online orientation event.

""Spring 2017 CEM virtual boot camp attendees.

The spring 2017 term marks the first time ever where students could not safely travel to the UAB campus for a scheduled two-day orientation to meet the CEM faculty, staff, and their classmates. The one day-long replacement virtual boot camp marked the official start of a track of study in which students will take 10 courses online over the next 19 months to earn a Masters of Engineering (MEng) in the Construction Engineering.

The incoming CEM students participating in the impromptu online Boot Camp for the spring 2017 term are shown in the picture along with CEM director Bill Hitchcock, Ph.D., Dianne Gilmer, Allen Murphree, and Fran Lefort. Several students were not able to attend live due to the weather conditions or because of overseas time zone differences.

This is the 18th boot camp hosted by CEM since Hitchcock and Gilmer implemented the online track of study in 2009. Since then, CEM has continued to grow and gain national recognition by U.S. News and World Report (currently ranked 28th nationally) for excellence in online engineering education, and by the Affordable Colleges Online (currently ranked third nationally) for Best Online Construction Management Program.

Hitchcock commented, “The Spring 2017 cohort of students will forever have a unique prestigious position as the first group to complete boot camp in a virtual classroom! The harsh winter weather threat to Birmingham was a grave cause for concern, and we had to put the safety and wellbeing of all participants foremost in our decisions and actions. I was truly impressed by how our students and the CEM team adjusted and together pulled off a wonderful kickoff to our CEM journey. We will use this remarkable beginning to grow the engagement of our students as we move through the challenging curriculum leading to the MEng in Construction Engineering Management. Once again, we have welcomed a diverse and talented group of students, and UAB is pleased these new students selected us. We know they have many choices.”

New students are admitted to the CEM track of study two times per year. Usually, they are physically introduced to their peers at boot camp during a two-day on campus event. Students work in a group setting, and socialize with each other while sharing several meals. These new students receive live course lectures from several CEM faculty members who begin discussing the material associated with the first two classes. Whether live or virtual, boot camp is recorded and posted to Canvas for their future reference. Even though the virtual orientation had a different dynamic than the on-campus orientation, the event remained powerful and was very well received by those incoming students who attended.

“EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT Job with boot camp! You handled everything wonderfully given the situation with the weather and last minute changes. You got me super motivated today and I wanted to say thank you. Your personal experience was touching and exceptionally motivating. I hope to live up to the standards that you and the faculty have set forth. The collaboration with other students was extraordinary, as I have never collaborated with fellow classmates in this manner. Thanks for all the hard work you put into setting up boot camp.”—incoming graduate student L. Hargett

Every cohort of students is unique and diverse in backgrounds and physical work locations. The spring 2017 incoming cohort represents 17 different states and two different countries according to Gilmer, who is the Assistant Director of CEM. She organizes the details of every boot camp, and this one was a unique opportunity to turn to the contingency plan. Here is what she had to say about the start to the spring 2017 term:

“Hosting a virtual boot camp presented many challenges and forced us to implement our contingency plan in a very short amount of time. We are very pleased we retained the boot camp experience for these students. Our goal is to deliver excellent customer care, as well as relevant, real world material. The students amazed us with how quickly they were able to understand the learning management system and gain access to the virtual room. Being able to learn to communicate virtually is a tremendous take away for our students.”