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Funds awarded for heavy construction post at SDSU

The Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering at South Dakota State University is putting a heavy emphasis on its construction management program.

The heavy-highway construction minor, which has been in place for eight years, has obtained funding for a Professor of Practice in Heavy Construction and the plan is to have that new faculty member in front of the classroom by fall. Funding of $50,000 for next five years comes from the Beavers Charitable Trust, which is the scholarship arm of the Beavers Inc., a national heavy construction industry trade group.

The aim is to increase enrollment in the program and, in turn, increase the number of graduates entering heavy construction.

SDSU already is one of 46 United States universities with a Beavers-endowed scholarship in heavy construction.

The professorship represents a heavier commitment to the SDSU program, which becomes the 16th university with a Beavers-funded professorship. “If you get the right person in front of a classroom, they can be an evangelist for heavy construction,” said Dave Woods, executive director of Beavers Inc. and Beavers Charitable Trust.

Johnson key to gaining grant

He cited the work of Gary Johnson, an adjunct faculty member who has been teaching heavy estimating at SDSU for nine years.

Johnson also is president of A-G-E Corp. in Fort Pierre, a family-owned heavy construction firm specializing in highway, railroad and marine projects for more than 50 years. Johnson also sits on the Beavers board of directors and was influential in securing the scholarship gift from the trust following a visit to Johnson’s class by Woods.

“The one thing we find, if you don’t have someone on the faculty dedicated to heavy construction, the scholarship effort doesn’t get that traction,” Woods said.

Johnson certainly fits that bill and by bringing in a full-time faculty member who also has extensive field experience, the program should gain even more traction. The memorandum of understanding for the professorship requires the successful applicant to have at least 10 years of experience as well as a bachelor’s degree.

Universities typically require at least a master’s degree to fill a permanent position.

However, Woods noted, “When Gary is teaching a class on heavy construction estimating, students are always interested in that. I think it really compliments a program when they do have people with plenty of real-world experience.” The grant request states that the ideal candidate would be someone working in or recently retired from a managerial position.

Teresa Hall, head of the SDSU construction and operations management department, said, “I envision when we add this new person, we will grow the number of minors and construction management students overall.”

There are five faculty members in construction management, but there hasn’t been a dedicated heavy construction instructor since Pat Pannell retired in 2014. Johnson said the new hire would be a good complement to Janet Merriman and Norma Chandler Nusz, who have strong field experience in closely affiliated construction areas.

SDSU commits to creating endowment

In addition to The Beavers funding, the SDSU Foundation will be seeking matching funds in order to create a lifetime endowment for the post.

“We see the commitment (SDSU has) and that’s important as a funding agency,” Woods, of Los Altos, California, said.

The grant proposal states, “Based on early expressions of interest, we are confident the match can be secured. We are developing donors to match the funds provided by (Beavers Charitable Trust) with the intent to secure combined spendable funding of at least $100,000 annually.” The university hopes to begin funding the endowment by year three.

Johnson has agreed to monitor the five-year grant on behalf of Beavers and if he can’t complete the task, his sons, Andy and Gerad, both SDSU construction management grads, are to fulfill his obligation.

“This wouldn’t have happened without him,” Hall said of Johnson.

Grads finding jobs in Midwest

There are currently 15 students minoring in the heavy-highway construction program with that count annually varying from 10 to 20, Hall said. “Of the students who complete the minor, three-quarters end up in the discipline. By and large, we’re pretty successful in placing students with heavy construction companies,” she said.

Students who want to work in the Midwest have been successful finding employment in the region and some land jobs with national firms, she said.

One of the roles of the new professor is to be a liaison to “our regional heavy industry partners. We enjoy solid working relationships with the South Dakota Association of General Contractors Heavy Highway Utilities chapter and the Minnesota Contractors Association,” the grant proposal states.

“Expanding our reach into Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota, states where we have also been successful in recruiting students, will open doors to internships and postgraduation placement for students in the region,” the proposal added.

A search committee for the professorship has been formed and the position is being advertised.