With help from the Texas Tech University System, a group of students got a look at their futures and the future of Texas Tech.
The job-site trailer sits right in the middle of campus, a hundred yards or so from what is currently a giant hole in the ground with a crane towering over it. The whole undertaking is surrounded by barrier fences marking it as a construction zone.
Students from the construction engineering program are gathered around a large table in the trailer. Their instructor, Don Bundock, has brought them here to get a taste of what their chosen profession entails.
They're greeted inside the trailer by a host of people from Western Builders and Facilities Planning & Construction (FP&C) from the Texas Tech University System (TTU System).
A question comes from the front of the room: “How many of you have ever been on a job site before?”
Of the 30 or so students in the room, only a half-dozen raise their hands.
Another question: “How many of you are first-year students?”
This time, most of the hands in the room go up, and that's the point of today's exercise.
For the few who have been on a construction site before, some of this will be old hat. For most, this is a new experience, a glimpse at the life they're choosing by signing up for construction engineering.
The person asking the questions is Billy Breedlove. As vice chancellor for FP&C for the TTU System, he and his team are responsible for the $112 million Academic Sciences building construction site the students are about to tour, along with $200 million or so worth of other projects across the five universities of the TTU System.
Todd Hardin, the associate vice chancellor is here as well, along with Lonnie Pierce, the senior construction field observer for FP&C.
Before walking onto the site, Breedlove hands the meeting over to Hardin, who goes over the process of constructing a building this large in the middle of a major university campus. Representatives from Western Builders, the construction company that won the bid for the job, weigh in as well.
They explain what a project of this magnitude requires and lay out the plan for the entire building.
They detail the logistics of getting 1,500 truckloads of dirt off campus and bringing 1,000 truckloads of concrete in, give demonstrations of the software they use to flag issues, explain the building design and go over the issues they've already run into.
“If they end up pursuing this profession or any profession in construction, in general, I think they'll get a pretty good idea of what that entails,” said Josh Foraker, the senior project manager for Western Builders on the Academic Sciences building. “They got a lot of information, got to meet a bunch of different people in different roles in construction on both sides – owner, contractor, inspectors, all that stuff. I think it's a good learning experience.”
For the tour, the students break up into smaller groups. Foraker and Hardin take one group, Breedlove leads another with Texas Tech alumnus Colton Greenlee, a project manager for Western Builders. The third is led onto the site by Pierce from FP&C and Greg Waddell from Western Builders.
“I think it's hard to translate what you see here to the classroom, to understand the reality without actually seeing it,” Greenlee says. “This helps put it into perspective and what they're learning hopefully keeps them motivated and shows them what the opportunities are.”
Bundock works his way between the groups, asking questions and making sure the students are engaged in the process. He helps clarify a few things and prompts a couple questions, but mostly he lets the people leading the project and the students interact.
The tour guides are patient and answer the questions. They explain where they are in the process, what the people on the site currently are working on and who is responsible for each part of the project.
It's an information overload at times, but it's meant to be.
“They probably feel like they're drinking out of a firehose and wondering what they got themselves into,” explains Hardin, who graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in architecture. “That's what the first year is supposed to be about. It's supposed to be about deciding if you're passionate enough to stick it out or if you need to go look somewhere else.
“That's the way I was my first year; I wasn't sure about architecture school. I got into it and saw all the hard work and how difficult it was and decided I was going to just commit to it, and I'm glad I did.”
For Hardin and Breedlove, this class also puts them in direct contact with students and gives them a chance to share their knowledge with the next generation.
The idea of a vice chancellor and an assistant vice chancellor stepping away from hundreds of millions of dollars worth of building projects to help teach a class may seem strange to some, but for Hardin, it's all part of the calling.
“We work for an institution of higher education,” Hardin explains. “If we're not willing to commit our time to this, then what are we out here for? I mean, we're building these facilities, literally, for the students. We must be willing to spend time not only to get the buildings built but also to show students what we do and to help them make the decision about whether they want to continue their career path.
“That's the important thing about it all. I would have loved to have had somebody when I was considering what I wanted to do to come out and show me what they did for a living so I could decide if I wanted to do it too.”
Their commitment isn't lost on the students.
Abel Cadenas, a first-year construction engineering student believes the time Hardin and Breedlove give to students is indicative of Texas Tech University's philosophy.
“This shows a lot about Texas Tech and everybody in charge in general, how much they give back to the students,” he said.
Kimber Gertson, a third-year student, agrees.
“I didn't think I'd ever get to meet anyone from the university leadership like that, but it's really cool,” she said. “I think it shows that they're invested in our education and where we go after this.”
For anyone who has ever met Bundock, none of this is a surprise.
After a lifetime spent on construction sites and a building career that is legendary in Lubbock circles, Bundock decided to pass on his knowledge to the next generation by taking a job in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering as an instructor of construction engineering.
His classes, both for first-year students and those nearing the end of their degree plans, are designed to move away from book learning and lean on real-world experiences.
“I don't think there is a substitute for being exposed to real-world engineering,” said Civil, Environmental & Construction Engineering department chair Andrew Jackson. “The more our students can be involved and exposed to engineering projects the better they will be able to connect their class work to engineering practice, better preparing them for their future.”
For Bundock, the evolving nature of technology across industries makes the hands-on experience even more valuable because it forces his students to interact with people who could one day be their bosses, clients or employees.
“In my lengthy career tools and technology have improved and changed extensively, but there is one constant that hasn't changed: people build buildings, whether with a shovel or a computer,” Bundock explained. “Here at Texas Tech, we are training industry leaders to work with a very diverse workforce and to communicate effectively with the men and women with whom they will work closely on large and small projects.”
And with a little help from the TTU System, Bundock is managing to do just that.