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The Student Experience: Rebuilding Together

Kate Dugan, Rich Cass and Chris Deiss

The Student Experience: Rebuilding Together

Fall 2012

Dec 9, 2013

No Place Like Home

Construction Management students join Rebuilding Together Fox Valley to restore homes for people in need.

For John, a Kaukauna homeowner, the weather outside also determined the weather inside his home. When it rained, for instance, he couldn’t seek shelter from the dampness inside like most people. Rather, he had to wear rain gear inside his home to get from one room to another.

Earlier in the year, his home was damaged by a tornado. He had no insurance due to job loss and was suffering from a disability caused by severe rheumatoid arthritis. Consequently, John was unable to address the multiple water leaks that were damaging his home.

“I was incredibly grateful to learn about an organization that could offer some help,” says John, whose mobility is comprised by the arthritis. That organization is Rebuilding Together Fox Valley (RTFV), a non-profit agency that provides critical home repairs, modifications, and improvements to low-income homeowners. “We rebuild homes at no cost to those in need,” states RTFV Executive Director Kate Dugan. “The work of our sponsors and volunteers makes a huge impact on our community through fostering independent living skills.”

Annually, RTFV completes around 100 area improvement projects, and that number is growing. Each project is sponsored by a local company or organization. They are completed in a single day and require an enormous effort from a variety of skilled craftsmen and volunteers. To fulfill the organization’s growing demands, two years ago it formed a partnership with students from the Construction Management Technology (CMT) program at Fox Valley Technical College.

As part of their final class experience, students are each assigned to an RTFV project. They work as project managers and are required to develop a budget, materials list, work schedule, and labor needed to complete the job. “It was hard for us to find people who can take on such a big role,” says Dugan. “These students from Fox Valley Tech are a miracle for us.”

Rich Cass, instructor in FVTC’s Construction Management Technology program, makes sure that students are well prepared for their projects. “Our students receive their individual assignments in January and the work is completed by May,” states Cass. “Students are assigned to projects based on their experience and capabilities.”

Chris Deiss, a current student in the program, was put in charge of one of this year’s largest projects for RTFV—John’s home. “I had 20 years of experience in construction before an on-the-job injury brought me to Fox Valley Technical College to change my career focus, even within the same industry,” he explains. “When I went out to look at John’s house in February, it had snowed and was actually raining inside his home. Drywall had fallen off ceilings, and there was mold and algae growing inside the windows.”

The project utilized all of Deiss’ organizational, scheduling, management, and communication skills. “One of the most important things I’ve learned in the program is how to delegate work, and that certainly came into play here,” he states. “We put on a new roof, new windows, new insulation, new wiring, and did some plumbing work as well. We also put up new walls inside and repainted the exterior.”

In addition to his RTFV work, Deiss engaged in an internship managing an 8,000 square-foot expansion and renovation of FVTC’s S.J. Spanbauer Center in Oshkosh. “I’ve always been on the contractor side of this line of work,” Deiss states. “This gave me great experience to look at things from the other side of the field. I gained a new perspective and learned a lot.”

Cass said the contractors knew they were working with someone who knew what he was doing. “In the end, Chris made things happen more smoothly and saved the project money,” summarizes Cass.

Deiss is pursuing a double major at FVTC with his other degree in Safety Engineering Technology. “I’m also thinking about earning a bachelor’s degree,” adds Deiss. “Helping others and getting to apply what I’m learning has made me enjoy going to school this time around.”

Working as project managers for RTFV, the students utilize skills that they gain in all aspects of the CMT program. “It not only brings out the applicable knowledge they’ve gained in the materials and methods classes, but also the soft people skills we emphasize in every course,” states Cass. “The whole experience helps students practice their communication skills. They learn how to present their ideas in a leadership setting.”