NMU Construction Students Gain Practical Insight from Housing Project

From left: Mark Grambergs, EdR vice president, real estate development; Heidi Blanck, NMU construction management professor; Caity Tefft, NMU senior; NMU President Fritz Erickson; Gene Carroll, partner, Neumann/Smith Architecture; and Kirk Frownfelter, general manager, Walbridge Construction.
From left: Mark Grambergs, EdR vice president, real estate development; Heidi Blanck, NMU construction management professor; Caity Tefft, NMU senior; NMU President Fritz Erickson; Gene Carroll, partner, Neumann/Smith Architecture; and Kirk Frownfelter, general manager, Walbridge Construction.From left: Grambergs, Erickson, Carroll and Frownfelter sign the agreement.
From left: Grambergs, Erickson, Carroll and Frownfelter sign the agreement.Representatives of NMU, EdR, Walbridge and Neumann/Smith after the agreement signing
Representatives of NMU, EdR, Walbridge and Neumann/Smith after the agreement signing

Northern Michigan University’s construction management program is benefitting from rare learning and internship opportunities associated with the new housing complex being built on campus. The university, private developer, contractor and architectural firm all signed a collaborative educational agreement that gives students access to a “living laboratory” for the duration of the two-year project.

“Any time students can see the actual application of concepts we talk about in class or the lab, it’s a huge advantage,” said Heidi Blanck, an NMU construction management professor who proposed the agreement. “It’s difficult to simulate the decision-making and coordination required for a project of this scope. Students who are motivated to go the extra mile will gain a better understanding of the process and be able to communicate that to prospective employers. Everybody involved has been extremely helpful.”

Dan Hunter, student and president of the NMU Constructors organization, said he has participated in site tours and one-on-one meetings with the project manager of Walbridge, the construction contractor.

“It’s great to be able to see a project in motion and follow the progress along the way,” Hunter said. “We’re seeing how different factors come together, how time management plays a big role and why safety techniques are so important to this industry. It’s valuable to see concepts we learned in the classroom in use in the field. I’ve been impressed by the speed and efficiency of the project. It’s going up fast.”

Walbridge Project Manager Chad Stahl said his company has re-employed intern Matt Boonstra, an NMU student who previously assisted with a campus housing project in lower Michigan, and planned to hire a second NMU intern. Other students have attended morning contractor meetings and Stahl has accompanied some on walking tours of the site.

“It’s been going great,” Stahl said. “The students are professional, attentive, genuinely interested and ask great questions. They seem impressed with what they see happening on their campus. Walbridge and my staff are very pleased to participate in this partnership and show students all aspects involved in managing construction projects.”

Opportunities for NMU students include classroom presentations by representatives of collegiate housing developer EdR. Mark Grambergs, vice president of real estate development, said the NMU agreement is one of the most structured and comprehensive teaming arrangements that EdR has engaged in.

“This cooperative learning project is completely consistent with NMU’s mission to give its students in-depth, hands-on learning experiences,” Grambergs said. “The students here will have access to all phases of the process of building a project of this size rather than limiting their experience to just the development or the construction management pieces of a project. In addition many of the students who work as part of the program will get the opportunity to live in the finished product.”

NMU’s construction management program also has access to documents and renderings prepared by architectural firm Neumann/Smith. NMU students are learning the same 3D computer-assisted design (CAD) software that the firm uses.

"This is a rare opportunity for construction management program students at Northern Michigan University to get a front-line perspective of the detailed work that goes into a major construction project of this size,” said Gene Carroll, a partner at Neumann/Smith. “It may take years out in the real world to have the opportunity to get this experience. I applaud the university for making this request on the behalf of its students and look forward to having them participate along the way with university, design team, construction manager and sub-contract trade members."

The new NMU residence halls will be delivered in three phases. The first two buildings will be online for fall 2017. Two more will open in January 2018 and the remaining two buildings will be completed for fall 2018.



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Kristi Evans
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