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Don't Overlook The Benefits of Building a Relationship with Your Local University

Some years ago, the Dean of the NC State College of Design, Marvin Malecha, was interested in putting a partnership together with educators and industry professionals. He formed the NC State DesignLife Board of Directors and Leaders Council, bringing together alumni, architects, designers, contractors and manufacturers.

I have been fortunate to serve on that board for over 20 years, now, in the beautiful city of Raleigh, NC. I'd like to share some of the lessons I've learned through this partnership of academia and the construction and design industry.

Educators and the Construction Industry Working Together

This council has given the university the opportunity to have the direct support of the industry. While they keep industry insiders informed of the direction of the college, the industry also can provide input for the direction of the college.

Frank Werner and Dean MalechaI benefited greatly under Dean Malecha's influence. He taught me the value of design and keeping relevant in an evolving world and industry. These lessons carry over in my day-to-day activities as well, whether it is for family, business or pleasure. This relationship has also allowed me to develop extensive networks both internally, with the professors and students, and externally with design professionals across the region.

I supported the board through Adams and Oldcastle Architectural, a CRH company, using my time and their dollars to fund scholarships, events, research and conferences. We had first-hand information to see where we wanted to spend our dollars–whether it was on scholarships, events, design competitions or research.

Giving Students Real World Construction Experience

One of the first events we worked on was to introduce me to Professor Pat Rand. Pat taught the ARC 232 Structures and Materials class at the College of Design. He is passionate about the use of materials in construction through a thorough understanding and detailing of materials. The class introduces the students to the use of concrete, steel, masonry and wood.

He encourages the students to touch, feel and work with the materials so they have a true appreciation when they start to design with them. I worked with him on the portion of the class that was dedicated to the use of concrete masonry for buildings and hardscapes. We introduced them to concrete masonry–the materials that make up the unit, how it was manufactured, the availability, the flexibility and how it was installed in the field.

We gave the students a chance to tour a local factory and work directly with a mason, to hold a trowel and see the ability of a true craftsman. Professor Rand created a competition for the students to design and craft a concrete masonry unit wall structure or design a new concrete masonry unit.

We partnered with our local trade association, Carolinas Concrete Masonry Association (CCMA), now called the Southeast Concrete Masonry Association (SCMA). Each year, the students prepare for the event over a two week period and then compete for cash prizes at the NC State Blockfest. We incorporate a jury of local professionals including an architect, landscape architect, mason contractor and block producer. This provides the student experience with the professional points of views they would work with when collaborating on real projects.

Academia and Real World Construction–A Legacy 20 Years in the Making

This project has been a grand success. I remember fondly the first year we held the event, seeing the enthusiasm, genuine interest and excitement in those students' eyes. After the event I thought to myself, "Can it get any better than this?" I have found out, after 20 years, every year is better than the first. The chance to work with students keeps us industry veterans young and excited about our industry.

We started the NCSU Blockfest in the spring of 1996. Pat has since passed the reins onto new professors and we are working with our fourth professor, Dana Gulling. He incorporated his unit design competition into a national competition with the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA). With the combined efforts across SCMA and NCMA, we have exposed over 2,000 students to masonry and hardscape products through our local and national competitions. Countless times during the year I work with professionals who I originally met at the NC State Blockfest.

The relationship with NC State College of Design has provided a way for me to collaborate and network with professors influencing the students who are future architects as well as current industry professionals; architects, landscape architects, engineers and contractors through real world construction experience.

Don't overlook opportunities you may have to partner with educators. You can influence the next generation and the future of our industry. At Building Solutions, we're constantly looking for opportunities to work in education. Browse our projects to see other educational institutions we've worked with recently.

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