As fall semester gets into full swing, Associate Professor Thomas Mills is busy welcoming the incoming class of building construction students. Mills is responsible for teaching BC 1224: Introduction to Building Construction, a required course for all first-year students in building construction that provides a foundation for success in the university and their careers.

The two-semester course offers new students an overview of the practice of building construction. The course also incorporates principles of Pathways to Success from the Office of First Year Experiences to provide a solid introduction to the university, their major, and their future professions. 

Pathways to Success focuses on students developing skills in problem solving, inquiry, and integration of learning, which is seamlessly woven together with concepts, skills, and abilities required for studying building construction.

“Our program is two semesters long and integrates topical content, so it isn’t a classical first year experience class focused solely on getting the students acclimated to the university environment. It’s engaging them not only in the university environment, but also a professional environment, and we have incorporated societal involvement as well,” Mills said.

The program encourages growth by having students identify their strengths, create a self-directed learning plan, relate their strengths toward personal, academic, and career success, and establish a culture of reflection that leads to lifelong learning.

The Department of Building Construction’s curriculum prepares students with the professional capabilities to critically address the present and evolving needs of the construction industry. Much of the pedagogy is high impact and practice-based, and courses — including the First Year Experiences course — incorporate real-life scenarios, simulations, and situations. To motivate and engage students, the learning experiences extend beyond lectures and textbooks to a variety of activities designed to introduce them to building construction and the university.

Through this first-year course, Mills seeks to instill critical thinking while raising the students’ level of consciousness. 

“Our industry is made up of professionals who will take a high level of risk and then assume that they can overcome that risk even with insurmountable odds. So what I want our students to do is think about what they’re doing, then do what they are thinking about, and then reflect upon their experience. This will allow them to think critically, examine themselves, and raise their levels of consciousness,” said Mills. “They need to be aware of themselves in a university setting, in a societal setting, and a professional setting.”

To encourage critical thinking, students in last year’s class were required to read a text book; the university’s Common Book, “This I Believe II;” and “Good Guys, Wiseguys, and Putting up Buildings: A Life in Construction.” They had to then draw from those readings to reflect on a personal experience and an ethical concept through blogs.

Mills also incorporated Strengths Quest in the class, prompting students to write about their insights on their strengths and promoting further exploration of the university by having the students locate resources that could enhance, or in some cases, temper, their individual strengths.

Another focus of the course is career preparation, and students are required to attend the Myers-Lawson School of Construction’s career fair, visit booths, and ask questions. Then they have to write about their experiences. Part of the focus is for students to learn to engage with potential employers, including learning that the first interview may actually be the initial conversation. Students also learn how to write their resumes to best represent their achievements and accomplishments.

Some topics covered in the first-year course are more industry-specific. For example, there aren’t many women in the building construction industry, so discussions of gender and gender equality are an important aspect.

Learning to be involved beyond the classroom is another element Mills introduces, and his students work in teams to get involved with a variety of community service activities.

At the end of the second semester students complete a capstone project that combines a community service approach with construction principles. Last year’s class built dollhouses. Students completed a basis of design and a conceptual design and produced construction documentation including a cost estimate, set of shop drawings, and a building schedule. Finally, they had to actually construct the house and then write a reflection statement on lessons learned. After completing research on area charity organizations, the students made the decision to donate their finished houses to the Montgomery Country Christmas Store.

As it enters its third year for Fall 2013, the First Year Experiences course continues to develop. Mills is finding new ways for students to self-direct their learning experiences within the context of the course’s learning objectives, encouraging them to explore and learn using technology and university resources.

The Department of Building Construction is part of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, which is a joint venture of the College of Engineering and the College of Architecture and Urban Studies focused on multi-disciplinary, multi-departmental and multi-national outreach, research and education that serves the full life-cycle and supply chain across the residential, industrial, commercial and heavy sectors of the construction industry.