The Construction Engineering Management (CEM) program received a total of 36 new master’s students during the August 19 and August 20 Graduate Orientation. This was an excellent opportunity for the incoming academics to meet the CEM faculty, staff, and their new classmates, in a safe and convenient virtual setting.

Screenshot of students attending the zoom bootcamp. The Boot Camp experience marks the official start of a track of study in which students will typically take five semesters of fully online graduate courses to earn a Master of Engineering (MEng) degree with a concentration in CEM in 19 months. However, there is a small percentage of students that opt to fast-track and complete their plan of study in 12 months. The CEM degree is offered through the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering (CCEE) and the incoming cohort of working professionals who attended the fall 2022 event are pictured above.

This is the 29th formal Boot Camp hosted by CEM since its inception as an online program in 2009. Since then, CEM has continued to flourish with over 139 active students and 755 alumni. In addition, CEM and the School of Engineering (SoE) have received several prestigious recognitions over the years:

  • US News and World Report – Excellence in online engineering education.
  • Online College Rankings Consensus – Best online construction engineering management concentration within a Master of Engineering Program.
  • Online Masters – One of the best online master’s in construction management.
  • Affordable Colleges Online – Outstanding affordability in online engineering education.

During day one, everyone at orientation had a chance to learn something significant about each other, as students introduced themselves, stated where they are from or currently located, discussed their current area of employment, and gave three words that described who they are as a person. This beneficial exercise allows students to immediately connect with their peers, encourages academic collaboration during the entire program, and promotes business networking opportunities. Some of the student’s introductions are pictured below.

Three screenshots of students during the zoom icebreaker.

Students were later asked a question to learn more about the cohort. The polling software captured the student’s anonymous responses from their devices, and below are some of their qualitative responses.

  • “Career advancement”
  • “Greater earnings”
  • “Enhanced industry knowledge”
  • “Transition from field to office management”
  • “Certifications and credentials”
  • “Better employment opportunities”
  • “Teaching credentials”
  • “Company upward mobility”
  • “Knowledge to run the family business”
  • “To become self-employed”
  • “Career change”
  • “Personal achievement goal”

To help students meet these goals, Boot Camp is structured to give the diverse group of professionals, located throughout the U.S and abroad, a chance to learn about: UAB policies, time management skills, the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS), how course content is delivered and received, computer and software requirements, proper communication methods, and online proctored examination procedures. Polling shows that 88% of the cohort is currently employed, and 12% are self-employed, so giving them the tools to balance work, graduate school, and family is huge in helping them achieve their overall goals.

The CEM team also provided students with a handbook that contains the same information covered during Boot Camp, along with some additional university resources to help ensure their CEM success. This information will be a great reference manual for each student during their entire UAB academic journey.

Students began day two presenting their live “Icebreaker” presentations, which is just one of many public speeches required during the CEM curriculum. Polling software shows that 69% of students work in the area of construction and project management, 5% work as general or subcontractors, 11% work in engineering, 5% work in utilities public works, and 5% are in the military. The engineering and construction industry relies heavily on outstanding oral communication skills, so this a very beneficial exercise to help eliminate nervousness and learn how to provide an informative message.

Overall, the live virtual presentations were very interesting, and students correctly implemented the ten essential professional public speaking techniques learned during day one.

The class was asked "What did you like most about attending the UAB virtual Boot Camp?" The polling software recorded some of their qualitative responses:

  • “Learning what to expect from the program and what is expected from students.”
  • “Getting to know the other classmates.”
  • “The technology portion and how to be successful.”
  • “I enjoyed meeting the professors and learning about their backgrounds.”
  • “The support and encouragement that was displayed.”
  • “How much everyone has in common.”
  • “Hearing everyone’s icebreakers.”
  • “The public speaking exercises.”
  • “The interaction with everyone."

It is easy to see that orientation is perceived as a beneficial event and that the virtual the two-day gathering provided the relevant information needed for this diverse group of students, ranging in age from 23 through 65, to successfully hit the ground running once classes begin. In the past, CEM has noticed that students who attend Boot Camp usually perform better than those who choose to only watch the recorded archive. Therefore, CEM faculty and staff were very pleased with the attendance and participation from these engaged future graduates.

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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
  •   MBA from the UAB Collat School of Business

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