The Construction Engineering Management (CEM) program greeted a total of 41 new students during the January 8th and January 9th Boot Camp.

Screen capture of the zoom virtual meeting. Students usually attend in an on-campus setting to physically meet the CEM faculty, staff, and their classmates. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, CEM held its second virtual-online graduate student orientation. The Boot Camp event marks the official start of a track of study in which students will take courses 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). The incoming cohort of students who attended the spring 2021 event are pictured above.

This is the 26th formal Boot Camp hosted by CEM since its inception as an online program in 2009. Since then, CEM has continued to prosper with over 620 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 track 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 Zech

During the morning kickoff, Dr. Wesley Zech, CEM Director, and Ms. Dianne Gilmer, Director of CEM Student Affairs, made warm introductions, congratulated the new students on being accepted into the program, and asked each student to introduce themselves. Dr. Zech says, “Traditionally, Boot Camp serves as a time for students to visit campus, engage with the CEM faculty, and meet other students. However, due to COVID-19, we continue to host our Boot Camp virtually through ZOOM. This represents our second, successful virtual event and I was thrilled that the students in attendance were engaged and have exhibited command of the technology. Like past events, the new cohort provided us with individual introductions via their icebreakers allowing us to learn more about them from a personal standpoint. Overall, the event was a success and we all left with a sense of personal connection and excitement for the Spring semester to begin.”

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

Dr. Jeffrey Holmes, M.D.

Afterwards, Dr. Jeffrey Holmes, M.D., the Dean of the School of Engineering, welcomed the cohort, saying “Hello everybody and Happy New Year. I am very excited to welcome all of you to the (CEM) program. My training is in biomedical engineering, so this is probably the only time that they will let me talk to you regarding this specific program. We are very proud of this master’s program because it is our first educational program at UAB that achieved a No. 1 ranking, which is so exciting. I think that it is a perfect example of what we do here at UAB engineering and that is to provide real world practical education to help people advance in their careers. I am going to stick around and listen to student introductions to learn more about you and where you are from.”

Dr. Fouad Fouad, P.E.

Dr. Fouad Fouad, P.E., the Chair of the CCEE Department, greeted the students, saying “This is a great program, and you all are in the right place. Despite the challenging times last year when the pandemic began, the program still excelled and was one of the best at UAB. CEM was able to quickly assist many other programs with required online delivery methods. The faculty and staff are tremendous and some of the best in the nation. For example, Michael Knapp a very well-known construction attorney from North Carolina, adjunct professor Dr. Salama the director of construction from Connecticut State University, and several outstanding faculty members internal to UAB. The CEM program is diverse and covers many aspects of construction like BIM, advanced construction methods, and management skills. We have a very powerful program and you all should learn a lot.”

Dianne Gilmer

Afterwards, Ms. Dianne Gilmer talked about the overall CEM Experience. The diverse group of students 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, “There is certainly no doubt that COVID-19 has disrupted our idea of normalcy. That being said, I am so very proud of the CEM students, our faculty and staff, for working together to seamlessly continue this educational journey. Advancing their knowledge and technical skills has proven a winning combination that results in professional success for CEM graduates. The journey begins at Boot Camp. We sincerely appreciate the students taking the time to attend orientation and allowing us to learn more about them, their goals, and career aspirations.”

Students were asked by Zech what motivates them to get 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”

Zech then began discussing the subject matter for Advanced Project Management, one of the first courses taken by the new graduate students. He covered the course objectives like managing project scope, cost, time, and resource, elements of managerial leadership, risks, safety, and ethics.

Allen Murphree

Later, Fran Lefort and Allen Murphree provided 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 organization, minimum computer system requirements, computer updates and maintenance, and installing educational software.

Fran LeFort

LeFort discussed the online examination proctoring procedures and conducted a virtual demonstration of the CEM computer technology. This exercise allowed students to see examples of a homework assignment, a sample exam, how to enter a live weekly class session, and how to watch an archived class recording. Their presentation completed the morning session and students were dismissed for lunch. If Boot Camp could have been on-campus, the students, CEM faculty, and staff would usually share a delicious meal together and then complete a short campus tour.

During 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.

Dr. Jason Kirby

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.

Closing out 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 presentation content, posture, tone and inflection, nervous jitters, time management, using visual aids, and knowing your audience.

Pat O’Mara

O’Mara also had students participate with a few group exercises that demonstrated how to monitor audience behavior and capture their attention while presenting. The training prepares graduates for their live “Icebreaker” presentations given on day two, which is just one of many public speeches required during the CEM curriculum.

On day two of orientation, after the students finished presenting their “Icebreaker” introductions, Dr. Chris Waldron began discussing the course material for the Construction Methods and Equipment class. This is the second class required for new students during their first term. Waldron began by showing some pictures of various bridges that he designed when working in industry.

Waldron later covered the class objectives, which included project delivery methods, the reason for building codes, loads on buildings, foundation elements, thermal material properties, wood, steel, concrete, masonry, and external cladding.

Dr. Chris Waldron

Overall, the virtual-online Boot Camp was a successful event and well received by everyone. At the end of the day, students were asked by Zech what they liked most about attending orientation. The polling software used captured the student’s anonymous responses from their devices and a few are 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.”

Zech made the following comment about the student responses “It is great to see that you all perceive Boot Camp as a beneficial event and chose to attend. As you’ve noted in your comments, Boot Camp is designed to provide you with the relevant information needed for you to hit the ground running once the semester begins. I wish you all luck once the spring semester begins and look forward to seeing everybody in CECM 669!”

According to Gilmer, “We are always so excited to welcome new students to the UAB Family. Surviving in a global economy requires advanced skills. With project launch windows narrowing and projects becoming more complex, it is more important now than ever to equip our students with the knowledge and capabilities needed to thrive in a rapidly changing marketplace. Our primary focus is the CEM students and helping them grow and develop to realize their full potential. We promise to meet the students where they are and deliver relevant, real world material that is pertinent to their jobs and career advancement goals. We are all on this journey together!”

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