WCU wins $100,000 grant to enhance construction management program

Western Carolina University’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology has been awarded a three-year, $100,000 grant from the National Housing Endowment to further develop construction management programs with an emphasis on land development.

“More than 40 programs from the best institutions from across the country applied for this grant. To be selected out of this competitive field is recognition of the quality and future potential of Western Carolina’s construction management program,” said Robert K. McMahan, dean of the Kimmel School. “This grant expands opportunities for our students and faculty in a number of critical ways and helps reinforce our commitment to producing construction management professionals with strong critical-thinking skills honed in a curriculum full of hands-on, learn-by-doing experiences.”

The grant will fund efforts to establish a land development major and a master’s degree program with an emphasis on the legal, political, environmental and financial aspects of land development.

“Our goal is to create programs of study that will be used as a national model for other construction management programs emphasizing land development and residential construction,” said Don Jensen, assistant professor of construction management and coordinator of the land development minor. Jensen and Ron Mau, assistant professor and director of the master’s degree program in construction management, submitted the application for the grant.

Some of the grant funding will support WCU student participation in activities such as the National Home Builders Land Development contest. To compete, student teams spend three months examining a construction management project and then present a comprehensive proposal at a national competition.

“We get to present in front of upper-level project mangers in the industry who take time out of their schedules to come to the competition and hear our ideas,” said Kate Vafai, a senior construction management major from Erwin and president of the WCU Construction Management Club. “It’s such an honor to get to meet them and network with students from other universities.”

Berl Childers, a senior construction management major from Hickory, said the contest’s most recent project required that students not only consider logistics such as the construction schedule for developing a 23-acre tract into 100 homes, but also how to finance and market the project. “The simulation feels like a real-life project and presentation,” said Childers.

WCU is one of five grant recipients. The others are the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, and Northern Kentucky University. The grants are awarded through the Homebuilding Education Leadership Program. The National Housing Endowment is the philanthropic arm of the National Association of Home Builders and facilitates the grants.

F. Gary Garczynski, chairman of the endowment and 2002 NAHB president, said the institutions chosen to receive 2010 grants have shown a commitment to providing superior residential construction education opportunities to their students.

“These grants will help them raise the level of professionalism in our industry for generations to come,” said Garczynski.

Past recipients include institutions such as Purdue University and Texas A&M University.