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Construction Engineering Management (CEM) welcomed 40 new graduate students this spring. Attendees came from as far as California, Connecticut, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming for the two day event. CEM admits during the spring and fall terms and currently has 148 registered graduate students.

Orientation marks the official start of a track of study in which candidates will take courses completely online over the next nineteen months to earn a Master of Engineering (MEng) degree through the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering (CCEE).


The incoming cohort who attended the spring 2019 event is shown in the picture. Overall, this is the twenty-second Boot Camp hosted by CEM since the CCEE Department Chair, Fouad Fouad, Ph.D., and CEM Assistant Director Dianne Gilmer implemented the online program in 2009. Since then, CEM has continued to excel with 508 alumni, and has received national recognition by U.S. News and World Reports for excellence in online engineering education, and by the Affordable Colleges Online for affordability in online engineering education.

Boot Camp is a time for students to visit the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) campus, meet their fellow classmates, the CEM faculty, and staff. During the morning session, Fouad and J. Iwan Alexander, Ph.D., the Dean of the School of Engineering, welcomed the new graduate candidates. Each talked about the need for more construction engineering professionals, as the industry is expected to grow over the next ten years. They also recognized the sacrifices being made by these collegians when balancing work, graduate level course work, and family.

""Wesley Zech, Ph.D., CEM director. Afterwards, Wesley Zech, Ph.D., who was attending his first UAB Boot Camp, was introduced as the new CEM Director. Beginning in January 2019, he filled a position vacated over eighteen months ago when former Director Wilbur Hitchcock retired. Zech joins the UAB family after 15 years of service at Auburn University. He possesses extensive construction management knowledge as a tenured professor and researcher within Auburn University’s Department of Civil Engineering.

When asked about his new UAB position Dr. Zech said, “I am energized about this new opportunity and the chance to contribute to a well-established program with such a strong track record. I hope that my skillset will help improve and further enhance the curriculum to achieve continued success for years to come. I truly enjoyed my first CEM Boot Camp and was surprised by the diversity of the students enrolled. I am excited for these graduate candidates and I feel confident that they will find the track of study fulfilling now and into the future, as they apply the lessons learned in their careers. I trust that the CEM knowledge obtained will act as a platform for these students to begin climbing their career ladder, achieving their academic goals and ultimately leading to professional advancement.”

Before students had lunch together, classmates received live course lectures from several CEM faculty members, as Waldron, Kirby, and Gilmer began discussing the course material associated with the first term. In addition, Fran Lefort and Allen Murphree provided hands-on training regarding the online technology of assignment submission, Canvas navigation, weekly course content, and computer software readiness.

During the afternoon session, students worked in groups and completed several tasks, as they received professional public speaking training from Pat O’Mara. The training prepares graduates for their live “Icebreaker” presentation given on day two, which is one of many public speeches required during the curriculum.

Overall, the Boot Camp experience is very informative and covers many educational topics required for students to be successful. It is recorded and archived for future reference for those students who could not attend. Every cohort is unique and diverse in backgrounds and physical work locations. Since its inception, CEM is represented by students from 43 different states and 18 foreign countries; a geographic distribution that reflects the reputation and over 10-years of success in engineering education.

According to Gilmer, “Boot Camp is the CEM Faculty and Staff’s favorite time of the year. Being able to welcome the new graduate students to the UAB Family in person is a real pleasure. While on campus, we try to show students real southern hospitality and we also strive to initiate an engaged student learning network. We want the graduates to have the flexibility of online classes, while establishing the connected feeling of a real brick and mortar classroom. The orientation portion of the weekend demonstrates to students the methods and tools that are in place to stay connected with both faculty and classmates and helps to insure academic success. The diversity of each cohort is always amazing to us. The fact that we can bring students together with different life experiences and backgrounds, yet be united as classmates working towards the same educational goal is extremely rewarding. For me personally, teaching, advising, and mentoring these graduate candidates through the nineteen-month journey is a real honor.”

The CEM team strongly believes in the benefit of higher education, the unique knowledge gained by implementing real world course content, and the ability to provide academic resources that can immediately improve student’s lives.