The Construction Engineering Management (CEM) program greeted a total of 62 new students during the August 21st and August 22nd Boot Camp. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CEM held a virtual-online graduate student orientation.

BC Group Pic newsSince an inclement winter weather event in 2017, the fall 2020 term marks only the second time ever where students could not safely travel to the UAB campus for the scheduled two-day event. Students usually attend in an on-campus setting to physically meet the CEM faculty, staff, and their classmates. 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 Masters 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 fall 2020 event are pictured above. This is the 25th Boot Camp hosted by CEM since its inception as an online program in 2009. Since then, CEM has continued to excel with over 607 alumni, and has received national recognition by US News and World Report for excellence in online engineering education. This year, the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s 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.

Wesley ZechDr. Wesley ZechDuring the morning kickoff, Dr. Wesley Zech, CEM Director, and Ms. Dianne Gilmer, Director of CEM Student Affairs, made kind introductions, congratulated the new students on being accepted into the program, and commended for their effort to attend the virtual orientation. 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 had to shift gears and host Boot Camp virtually through Zoom, which resulted in a very successful event. The students that attended were engaged and did an exceptional job with the technology. They provided us with individual introductions via their icebreakers and made the event personable. Overall, the event was a success and we all left with a sense of personal connection.

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

Lefort MurphreeMs. Fran Lefort and Mr. Allen MurphreeAfterwards, Ms. Fran Lefort and Mr. 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. 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.

Pat OmaraPat OmaraLater that morning, 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. 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.

O’Mara’s 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.

Jeffrey HolmesDr. Jeffrey Holmes, M.D.During the start of the afternoon session, Dr. Jeffrey Holmes, M.D., the Dean of the School of Engineering, welcomed the cohort saying “I want to congratulate everyone on the start of the program. I hope that people have bragged about this program to you. CEM has been fantastic for the School of Engineering and received a number one ranking this year as the best online master’s in construction management. In March, when everyone was forced into remote instruction, it was this team that were the experienced professionals that helped other faculty convert their classes. We appreciate them for what they do, and you will too. I look forward to seeing what each one of you will accomplish at UAB and beyond.” Holmes is new to UAB, officially beginning in his role as the Dean on July 1st, 2020, and was previously part of the University of Virginia.

Fouad FouadDr. Fouad Fouad, P.E.Dr. Fouad Fouad, P.E., the Chair of the CCEE Department, greeted the students saying “You are part of a great CEM program with a very talented team. 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. Even with the outbreak of COVID-19, the construction industry remains strong and continues to hire. It is very rewarding to be part of a construction project because everyone can immediately see the progress, the work is new and different every day, and it provides a benefit to the public.” Fouad also told students “Our CEM curriculum is a broad-based graduate degree program that offers excellent knowledge in project management, legal, construction methods, and technology like BIM, drones, and virtual reality. The CEM program will prepare you for the challenges of the job. Best wishes.”

Dianne GilmerDianne GilmerAfterwards, 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, “Each new cohort has its own personality and unique characteristics. The diverse education and experience backgrounds of the students always amazes us. The students enjoy learning about other career opportunities offered in the construction industry that they were not aware of prior to coming to UAB. CEM’s global presence, allows our students and alumni access to a vast network of other working professionals.”

Students were asked by Zech what they expect to get out of Boot Camp. The polling software used captured the student’s anonymous responses from their devices and a few are shown below:

  • “Overview of Program”
  • “Tips for success”
  • “Preparedness”
  • “Knowledge”
  • “Student expectations”

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.

Jason KirbyDr. Jason KirbyClosing out day one, 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.

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.

Chris WaldronDr. Chris WaldronOn 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.

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:

  • “Learning about good presentation techniques and networking with my fellow classmates.”
  • “Details on class, tests, homework, faculty and staff.”
  • “The experience of meeting everyone and giving us an idea of what was to come and what was expected.”
  • “I enjoyed meeting classmates and instructors. I enjoyed hearing everyone’s stories and details regarding their individual backgrounds and life experiences.”
  • “Getting to know classmates and instructors.”
  • “The direction that was given to navigate the systems like Canvas, Proctor U, etc.”
  • “A great introduction for the requirements of the program”
  • Boot Camp reinforced my decision to enroll in the CEM program.”

According to Gilmer, “One of the most beneficial aspect of Boot Camp is creating an engaged learning community and network for the new students. The fall 2020 cohort is comprised of many different educational and work history backgrounds. It is amazing to see how these differences create a very collaborative and innovative culture in which students can grow both professionally and 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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