Depending on their goals, students can learn to manage construction projects from the ground up or build homes from start to finish. Both programs feature hands-on projects, use sophisticated software, and incorporate principles of sustainable, energy-efficient building design and construction wherever possible.
Construction Management on the Fast Track
Construction Management Technology is the first and only associate degree training program of its kind in Wisconsin, according to department chair and instructor Rich Cass. All graduates are qualified for such entry-level management or supervisory positions as assistant project managers, assistant construction managers, and project engineers.
First-year program enrollment exceeded expectations, with 21 students signing up. It now has 35 to 40 students, counting both first- and second-year students. “Students can finish in two years if they apply themselves,” Cass says.
Coursework covers the basic principles of building science, project cost control, document management, supervision, and safety and risk management. The core classes teach the fundamentals of construction materials and methods. Other coursework enhances construction project management skills and introduces students to architectural design and building information modeling software. Students are also required to complete a 10-week summer internship, where they learn and apply construction management skills in a real-life setting with local contractors.
Residential Construction Gets Hands-On
Enrollment in the Residential Building Construction program, which peaked before the national housing bubble burst, is at about 20 students this year. Students typically are one to three years out of high school, though a small percentage of non-traditional students also enroll. “I feel the market has bottomed out and we’re climbing again,” notes instructor Bill Tuchscherer. “Our students are getting jobs, more so in the remodeling market; where a few years ago it was in new construction.”
Students spend half their week in the classroom learning theory and practicing a specific skill until they perfect it. The other half of the week focuses on working on a phase of a home that the class builds from start to finish. Students do everything a carpenter would, from staking out the house for the excavator to framing and roofing to putting in windows, siding, insulation, and sheetrock. Inside, they install stairs, hardwood floors and crown molding, and other special woodwork.
Over the years, the RBC program has built and sold 20 homes, Tuchscherer says, with all the profits going to the FVTC Foundation for college-wide student scholarships or special projects. The program has enjoyed the support of four trade associations in completing the projects: Valley Home Builders Association, Winnebago Home Builders Association, the Fox Valley Construction Management Association, and the Fox Valley Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
A Foot in the Door
Growing up helping with his father’s construction business, Paul Shaver already knew a lot about building. But he also realized he needed additional credentials. “In today’s economy, unless you have a degree, it’s hard to get your foot in the door,” says Shaver, who completed the RBC program in August. “I decided to get a degree; it teaches you everything you need and gets you out in the workforce quickly.”
Shaver says he chose the program in part because of its reputation as one of the state’s best finish programs. It met his expectations. “Finish work is what really makes a carpenter,” he says. “It’s not easy, but they broke things down so everybody could understand it and apply it. Anyone going through the program is capable of succeeding at carpentry.”
Shaver will have to wait before he joins his father on the job site. He’s off to serve as a combat engineer in the U.S. Marine Corps, building base camps, airports, and other structures for the military. He expects to go overseas after completing basic training in California. “I thought it would be cool to use the skills I learned for something that might be bigger than building a house for one family,” he says. “It’s a different way to apply my degree.”
Sustainability is a focus of both the Construction Management Technology (CMT) and Residential Building Construction (RBC) programs at FVTC. For example, the CMT program features an entire course in sustainable design and construction that provides an introduction to the Green Building Rating System from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) organization. When students finish the course, they will be prepared to take the LEED Green Associate accreditation exam. With architects and engineers employing sustainability into their designs today, students who have knowledge will have a leg up.
Similarly, RBC program students receive hands-on experience in sustainability in a variety of ways. All student house projects employ the latest air-sealing techniques and incorporate a high degree of insulation. Special attention is given to economical use of material, recycling, and reuse. A recent student project involved disassembling an existing house and reclaiming a large share of the framing lumber for reuse in the new home. Other material was offered to the local Habitat ReStore or made available to students for use in personal projects. Minimal waste is sent to landfills in both new construction and remodeling projects.