Building Foundations at North Carolina A&T State University
Impactful student engagement plan revolutionizes engineering education at NC A&T University
In business, there are relationships. And then there are partnerships.
In Balfour Beatty, North Carolina A&T State University has found the latter. When this renowned historically black college and university (HBCU) retained Balfour Beatty to build its new Student Union, a mutual commitment was established to leverage this project as a teaching opportunity for A&T students. Through one of the most innovative and robust student engagement plans ever applied on a higher education construction project, Balfour Beatty has directly impacted more than 600 A&T students. Together, A&T and Balfour Beatty have revolutionized the educational experience within the University’s #1 program for engineers of color as ranked by Money Magazine.
Balfour Beatty and NC A&T collaborated with the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development to develop this student engagement plan, whose approach to maximizing learning and development opportunities touched not only future builders but also the entire student body. A website was created and maintained to keep the campus highly informed and connected to the project. The University dedicated an area in its construction management school for engagement activities, where engineering students have received guidance on nearly every aspect of the construction process.
Members of Balfour Beatty’s project team, which includes six A&T alumni, have embraced their roles as mentors during the past two years on campus. Along with joint venture partner C2 Contractors, team members have provided students with a vast array of industry-related opportunities. From monthly project tours to guest lectures on subjects such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), scheduling, estimating, bidding, blueprint reading and more, this team has given of their time and talents—all to the benefit of up-and-coming industry professionals. In September 2017, the team set up virtual reality (VR) booth at the University’s Career Fair, giving students a lens into the industry’s most cutting-edge trend.
“The Student Union project has been an incubator for education,” praises Andrew Perkins, associate vice chancellor, facilities at NC A&T.
Balfour Beatty has also helped facilitate networking opportunities with many of the 62 firms that comprise the project’s impressive 43% Minority and Women Owned Enterprise (MWBE) participation—a rate that more than quadrupled the state’s goal. Some students like civil engineering major, Christian Stowe, have worked even more closely with the team. Following his 2017 internship, Stowe praised his experiences on social media. “Learning about the complex design and build [of the Student Union] was amazing. I have learned so many lessons about construction that will help me fuel my career…”
Collectively, these efforts have elevated A&T’s already prestigious and highly sought-after engineering program. Many engineering students graduate with largely theoretical knowledge, having merely toured active constructions sites. At A&T, however, students receive continued, hands-on training that crystallizes classroom studies. “We’ve taken it to another level,” acknowledges Johnny Rankin, executive vice president for Balfour Beatty in Raleigh. Better preparation goes hand-in-hand with improved graduation rates, which ultimately boost recruitment, bringing the process full circle.
“When a student can walk onto a 150,000-square-foot project and witness the activities they’ve read about come to fruition, that student can be a contributor day one,” commends Perkins.
The Student Union project is scheduled to complete in spring 2018, and a highly anticipated ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held in July. A beacon for the campus, the new facility is a modern, glass-fronted structure bridging green spaces running from the Aggie Village Green to Aggie Stadium. Balfour Beatty plans to expand engagement efforts on a second campus project known as the ERIC building (Engineering Research and Innovation Complex), which is slated to begin construction in summer 2018. When complete, it will surpass the Student Union as the largest construction project to date at the University.
It’s been said that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” For an industry in which experiences outside the classroom are fundamental to succeeding in the field, the opportunities Balfour Beatty has and will continue to provide A&T students are invaluable. Although Balfour Beatty was contracted to build a Student Union’s structural foundation, thanks to this strong and synergistic partnership with NC A&T University, a foundation is also being built for North Carolina’s next generation of construction leaders.