Intense competition is at the core of the annual Construction Institute Student Days. Thirty of the best engineering students in the country are divided into teams of five and given a project to complete in three days.
This year’s event – hosted July 31 through Aug. 4 in Orange County, CA – was a little different, though. This year’s students took the intensity and turned it into camaraderie. They competed, yes, but they also formed fast friendships, made professional connections, and had lots of fun.
“The organizers told us this year’s students gelled more than any other year they’ve had,” said Jacqui Scibior, a senior at Clarkson University and captain of the Student Days first-place project team. “I can say I knew everyone’s name. We all really got to talk and gel well.”
“It’s crazy how close you get so quickly when you have a project or task to do,” said another team captain, Jean Fernandez, a senior at Rutgers University. “The six teams, we actually went to the beach, had a bonfire. It was the first time for a lot of us [being] on the West Coast. We saw the sunset over the ocean. California is amazing. It was a great time.”
This year’s competition asked students to develop a construction bid proposal and formal presentation for a real-life seawall reconstruction project in Long Beach, CA. The students’ resumes are impeccable, loaded with honor society memberships, ASCE student chapter leadership positions, and high-level internships. But very few had experience with the kind of work afforded by the competition. To aid the students in developing their bid package, CI brought in industry experts in creating and managing construction bids, marine construction, and the importance of considering utilities on construction projects.
“Estimating, bidding – what would the production rate of this be?” said Cody Dodge, a senior at nearby California State University, Long Beach and captain of the second-place team. “It really made you think of all the aspects that go into a project, the entire spectrum of the construction industry. It really challenges and makes you think farther out.”
Dodge is interning this summer with Traylor Bros. Inc. on the Los Angeles subway regional connector transit project. He said the Student Days business-oriented project sharpened his overall skills.
“It makes you better in the field because now you know production rates, you know how a schedule should work,” Dodge said. “They really go hand in hand. You need to know both to do either one well.”
Scibior’s team took an interesting path to victory – one that included surfing. Turns out the U.S. Open of Surfing was happening at Huntington Beach, just down the road from the student hotel.
“We said there’s no way we can’t go see this,” Scibior said.
So the group – all students from the East Coast – cut its project meeting time short by two hours in order to catch the waves. But in all seriousness, the schedule worked because of the team’s focus on efficiency and organization.
“We ended up putting together a very clean project,” Scibior said. “We all had very clear-cut roles. We all got along really well together.”
Dan Stevens is a CI Student Days veteran, having attended when he was a student at Clarkson, and now as a mentor, organizer, and judge.
“I like how open-ended it is,” said Stevens. “The ideas you get from group to group are so different. You have so many ideas in such little time. You’re working with students you have never met before. You’re getting curveballs left and right. It’s a kind of exciting process.
“It’s pretty applicable to real life. You’re going to work with people you don’t know. Often you’re not going to have as long as you might want to work on something. I guess that’s the joy in it.”
Stevens is an engineer in the assembled products division for Dimension Fabricators Inc., in Albany, NY. At 24 years old, he is able to serve as a role model, connecting the career dots from Student Days participant to young, professional engineer.
“Student Days is a great way to get acquainted with ASCE for the rest of your career, [through] the exchange of ideas,” Stevens said. “A lot of times you work on what you work on, and you’re doing your own thing. You can kind of get stuck in your own little world. You can miss out on some big ideas and opportunities. Student Days is a great way of transitioning to a professional career and professional involvement outside of work.”
In addition to the competition, the weekend featured guest speakers, a sandcastle-construction team-building activity on the beach, a speed-networking session with industry professionals, and a technical tour of the Gerald Desmond Bridge construction in Long Beach. The speed-networking session provided the students an opportunity to ask questions about transitioning to and working within the construction profession. The students rotated through five tables with local and national civil engineering professionals offering advice.
“It was awesome,” Dodge said of the overall experience. “A lot of late nights, early mornings, learning lots of new things. You’re only there for four days, so you’ve got to soak it in, even if you don’t sleep that much. You’re not going to be in that moment again.”
Said Scibior: “I wish I could go again next year, to be honest. It was a great experience.”