On January 10 and 11, 2020, Construction Engineering Management (CEM) held an on-campus boot camp that serves as an orientation for new graduate students.

""The event was a time for students to visit the UAB campus and meet their fellow classmates, the CEM faculty, and support staff. Attendees traveled from as far as Utah, Ohio, and Texas. CEM admits students during the spring and fall terms, and currently has 163 active graduate candidates. Orientation marks the official start of a concentration in which collegians will take courses completely online over the next 19 months to earn a Master of Engineering (MEng) degree with a concentration in CEM through the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering (CCEE).

CEM welcomed 43 new graduate students as part of the spring 2020 cohort. This is the 24th boot camp hosted by CEM since its inception as an online program in 2009. Since then, CEM has continued to flourish with over 555 alumni, and has received national recognition by U.S. News and World Report for excellence in online engineering education, 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.

""During the morning kickoff, Dr. Wesley Zech, CEM Director, and Dianne Gilmer, Assistant CEM Director, made warm introductions and congratulated the new students for their effort to attend the orientation. According to Zech, “this is the only time that students have to be on campus since the CEM program is fully online and is a great time for them to physically interact with their peers, to make connections with someone that could be a helpful class resource, and to network about job opportunities.” Introductions of the CEM faculty and staff continued. The director also asked each student to stand and tell where they are from, their company and title, and three words that best describes themselves. Afterwards he addressed academic policies, the UAB Academic Honor Code, and program expectations.

""Afterwards, Dr. Timothy Wick, the Interim Dean of the School of Engineering, welcomed the cohort, saying “So this is a really diverse group with a background and expertise in engineering, construction, geotechnical, and many other related areas. I find it very cool to think that all of you chose Construction Engineering Management (CEM) at UAB to advance your diverse set of skills. You may not know this, but CEM is ranked eighth among similar programs, so you are surrounded by good people who have put together a fantastic program. I read a powerful article recently that said that construction management is a field where professionals see and develop spaces that alters our world. This is an industry that is growing and not going away. How we interact and deal with the built environment is changing rapidly with robotics, new technology, and other tools that will soon be at your availability. You are part of a program that offers cutting edge training. Welcome to UAB and enjoy the experience.”

""Next, Dr. Fouad Fouad, P.E., the Chair of the CCEE Department, greeted the students by saying “Construction is the largest field in the world. It employs millions of people and produces trillions of dollars for the U.S. economy, so you should be proud to be part of this growing industry. When you think about the Golden Gate Bridge, the Great Pyramids, Pisa Tower, the Coliseum, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and others, these are all iconic construction projects. Importantly, places are defined by its construction and architecture. It is very rewarding to be part of a construction project because everyone can immediately see the progress, it is tangible, and you can say I was involved with that project.” Dr. Fouad also told students, “Our CEM curriculum is very exciting and offers excellent construction management knowledge. However, the greatest aspect is the technology, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), virtual reality, augmented reality, drones, the Internet (IoT) and exposure to other software that can really help advance your professional career. Good luck with orientation today and have fun in the program.”

Instructional Design Manager Fran Lefort and Instructor Allen Murphree provided hands-on training regarding the CEM online technology of assignment submission, Canvas LMS navigation, weekly course content, and Zoom live class sessions. Murphree also discussed the importance of proper computer requirements, updates and maintenance, installing educational software, and online examination proctoring procedures. Lefort conducted a hands-on demonstration of the computer technology, which allowed students to keystroke examples of a homework assignment, a sample exam, they entered a live class session, and watched an archived class recording.

During the afternoon, after students and CEM staff shared a delicious meal and finished a campus tour, 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. Through the use of a hands-on exercise about a house, he helped students understand the importance of LEED design and development as it relates to material colors, size and scale, solar orientation, energy saving technology and materials. He also talked about the design priority differences between an architect and an engineer.

Later during the day, students received public speaking training from professional speaker and author Pat O’Mara. Students were placed in groups and completed several task to help them learn steps to present like a professional. The training prepares graduates for their live “icebreaker” presentations given on day two, which is one of many public speeches required during the CEM curriculum.

Overall, the boot camp experience is very powerful and covers many useful hands-on educational topics required for students to be successful. During this boot camp, day two was met with severe weather threats, widespread flooding, and tornado warnings. While some students had to travel home early, we were able to hear many excellent presentations, as a much earlier start time allowed us to finish the icebreakers well before the storms entered the Birmingham area. Nevertheless, orientation is recorded and archived for those students who could not attend, for students who needed to leave early, and for all student’s future reference.

""Every cohort is unique and diverse in backgrounds and physical work locations. Since its inception, CEM is represented by students from 46 different states and 19 foreign countries, a geographic distribution that reflects the reputation and over 12-years of success in engineering education. According to Gilmer, “The CEM faculty and staff are always extremely honored and excited to welcome a new cohort of students at the start of the term. Boot camp is the beginning of the educational journey for CEM students. It’s wonderful getting to meet the students and learn more about them and their career aspirations. We understand our students come from various educational and professional backgrounds. It is our goal to meet them where they are and help them achieve success in both graduate school, as well, as their careers. Boot camp is one of the main factors involved in creating an engaged learning community. The relationships and networks that CEM students form during graduate school extend well beyond their time at UAB.”

Overall, boot camp is well received by everyone. Students were asked by Zech what they expect to get out of the experience. Ppolling software captured students' anonymous responses from their devices and a few are shown below:

  • “Networking”
  • “A fresh start”
  • “Preparedness”
  • “Knowledge”
  • “A foundation of expectations”

The CEM team feels that we have once again met the students boot camp expectations. The leadership believes strongly in the power of higher education, the benefits of implementing real world course content, and providing students with the resources to be academically successful. We are proud of our work and look forward to another excellent academic student journey.

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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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