Construction Engineering Management (CEM) welcomes 59 new graduate students as part of the fall 2019 cohort.

On August 23rd and 24th, 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, meet their fellow classmates the CEM faculty, and support staff. Attendees traveled to the campus from as far as California, Montana, Ohio, Missouri, and New York. CEM admits students during the spring and fall terms and currently has 147 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 through the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering (CCEE).


The incoming cohort of students who attended the fall 2019 event is shown in the picture above. This is the twenty-third Boot Camp hosted by CEM since its inception as an online program in 2009. Since then, CEM has continued to thrive with over 548 alumni and has received national recognition by U.S. News and World Report for excellence in online engineering education, by Online Masters for one of the best online master’s in construction management, and by the Affordable Colleges Online for affordability in online engineering education.

During the morning kickoff, CEM Director Wesley Zech and Assistant CEM Director Dianne Gilmer made warm introductions and congratulated the new students for their effort to attend the orientation. Gilmer told the on-campus group “We’ve noticed that students who attend boot camp are engaged in the program early on, are comfortable with the software, have met their group mates, and hit the ground running at the start of the semester.” Introductions continued as Dr. Zech asked each student to stand and say something interesting about themselves, tell where they are from, and their current employment. This is a great time for students to physically interact with their peers, to make connections with someone that could be a helpful class resource, and to network about job opportunities.

""Timothy Wick, Interim DeanAfterward, Timothy Wick, the Interim Dean of the School of Engineering welcomed the cohort saying “This is the beginning of a journey and we are glad that you are here. CEM is our signature professional program in the School of Engineering and has been going now for almost 12 years. We make an investment with faculty when they come to UAB because they are hired (full time) and must be paid – we do not have contract work, so we hope that they create programs that meet the demand. This program has exceeded all expectations and it is because of the outstanding faculty, so you are in good hands with Wesley, Dianne, Fran, and the other faculty. We have graduates from this program working all over the world and soon you can say that you are part of that. I hope that you enjoy boot camp and let me know if I can answer any questions or help in any way. Good luck and have fun!”

Fouad Fouad 500Fouad Fouad, P.E., Chair, CCEE DepartmentNext, Fouad Fouad, P.E., the Chair of the CCEE Department, greeted the students saying “CEM is the most successful program in the civil engineering department. It has grown tremendously over the past 10 years and we are so very proud of it. The program has a great history with Dianne and Fran being early initiators. We launched the CEM track in 2008 on-campus and moved to online instruction in 2009 to expand growth.”

Fouad also told students “You should be proud to be in the construction industry, as it impacts the entire U.S. economy by about $1.3 trillion per year and employs over 10 million people, so it is a great field. Our curriculum is very exciting and gets into the new learning trends such as building information modeling (BIM), green building, safety, and contract law. Lastly, we have great faculty, with Dr. Zech who came to UAB this year from Auburn University, Allen, Dianne, and many others. You should be very happy with the program and good luck!”

""Later, students received live course lectures from several CEM faculty members, as Zech addressed academic policies and course expectations. Gilmer discussed the project management course, and Christopher Waldron introduced the methods and materials class. On Saturday, Jason Thomas Kirby began reviewing course content for sustainability and green building practices, with a hands-on exercise to help students understand the importance of LEED design and development.

In addition, Fran Lefort and Allen Murphree provided hands-on training regarding the online technology of assignment submission, Canvas navigation, weekly course content, and Zoom live class sessions. Around mid-day, students and CEM staff socialized with each other while sharing a delicious meal, and then took a campus tour.

During the afternoon, students worked in groups and completed several tasks, as they received public speaking training from professional speaker and author Pat O’Mara. 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.

""Holistically, the Boot Camp experience is very powerful and covers many useful hands-on educational topics required for students to be successful. It is recorded and archived for those students who could not attend and for 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 44 different states and 19 foreign countries, a geographic distribution that reflects the reputation and over 11-years of success in engineering education.

Overall, Boot Camp is well received by everyone. At the end of day two, 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:

  • “Getting familiar with the technology, meeting everyone, and public speaking tips.”
  • “I enjoyed connecting not only with my classmates but teachers on a personal level. I also loved the motivation I received to succeed not only in this program but in life.”
  • “The experience of meeting everyone and giving us an idea of what was to come and what was expected.”
  • “I enjoyed meeting with classmates and instructors. I enjoyed hearing everyone’s stories and details regarding their individual backgrounds and life experiences.”
  • “Meeting the instructors and students.”
  • “The direction that was given to navigate the systems like Canvass, Proctor U, etc.”
  • “Building relationships with faculty and classmates.”

According to Ms. Gilmer, “The CEM faculty and staff look forward to Boot Camp each fall and spring! Having the students come to Birmingham allows us the opportunity to welcome them to the UAB Family. Boot Camp weekend is the beginning of the students’ educational journey. One of the most beneficial aspects of Boot Camp is creating an engaged learning community and network for the new students. A real highlight is the student icebreaker presentations on Saturday morning. The candidates share their story about what prompted their decision to pursue the CEM graduate degree and what brought them to UAB. The fall 2019 cohort is comprised of many different educational and work history backgrounds. It’s amazing to see how these differences create a very collaborative and innovative culture in which the class can grow both professionally, as well as, personally. The CEM Faculty are very sensitive to the fact that the students are working professionals and make themselves available during evenings and on weekends. We strive to deliver relevant, real-world material that will aid the cohort in achieving their educational goals and to make them more marketable in a global economy.”

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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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