OP-ED: Construction’s next generation making connections at OSU

SC2013_DJC_320x320Mike Salsgiver, Executive DirectorAcross the United States, a reality of our education system is that 50 percent of high school students go to college, but only half of those students earn a degree. But the graduation rate for students in the Construction Engineering Management (CEM) program at Oregon State University is significantly higher – nearly 90 percent every year.

Along with a remarkable CEM program, there is an active and vibrant Associated General Contractors student chapter at OSU. The AGC of America has more than 200 student chapters nationwide. The OSU chapter was the first collegiate chapter in the United States to open, and has proven to be an immense benefit to both students and Oregon’s commercial construction industry.

Two highly engaged members of OSU’s CEM program and AGC student chapter perfectly highlight what makes being an “Oregon State engineer” so special and how it has affected their college experiences.

Kenneth Semenko is a third-year student at Oregon State and has been involved in the AGC student chapter for all three of those years. Throughout his time in the student chapter, he has held numerous leadership positions, including sophomore representative, outreach coordinator, and speaker meeting coordinator. Semenko tells us that through the student chapter’s exciting events he has been able to meet great people with similar interests and a drive to succeed. He also emphasizes that the student chapter has an exceptional level of involvement, which is very rare among student groups.

Semenko knows that when he graduates, the connections he has made with classmates and industry partners through the student chapter will be beneficial in the search for a good job. For this reason, he is thankful for his involvement in an organization that directly supports the industry, exposes students to industry-leading speakers, and supports the recruitment of new talent.

Amelia Cecchini has had a similar experience with OSU’s AGC student chapter. When she began attending the university as a freshman, she was unsure of what she wanted to do professionally. She had an interest in engineering, but did not know what type of engineering she wanted to specialize in – until she met the president of the AGC student chapter. Not only did he introduce her to the CEM program, but he explained what the degree could offer and the places it could take her. After that, she was hooked.

Over the past four years in school, AGC has introduced Cecchini to peers and industry members who have pushed her to become the person she is today. Involvement in AGC has greatly enhanced her college experience, and she will always be grateful for that chance encounter with the AGC student chapter president early on.

When we discuss the student chapter with AGC’s contractors, the universal response is that these students are world-class. Their involvement in the chapter and the larger CEM program gives them a breadth of knowledge in engineering fundamentals and an unparalleled depth of technical expertise. They learn the value of and gain practice in clear communication and collaborative working processes. They think critically and question assumptions.

When these students graduate, they will join a community of high achievers whose collective efforts solve seemingly intractable problems, strengthen individuals and communities, and contribute to a better world. Competition among member companies to recruit and hire these students is intense.

Additionally, the graduation statistics of the CEM students and AGC student chapter members are notable. OSU reports that 73 percent of students had completed at least one industry-related internship and over 90 percent of the students had at least one full-time job offer prior to graduation. The market segments that these students will enter include marine contracting, residential contracting, mechanical contracting, heavy civil contracting, and commercial contracting. The average base salary of those CEM students directly following graduation was $59,162, well above Oregon’s average salary for private-sector employees.

What these student perspectives and more than 50 years of program experience show is that by connecting with viable employers via internships and mentorships during school, students are more encouraged and better positioned to enter the industry and earn family-wage jobs. The academic level of the CEM program’s curriculum, partnered with membership in the AGC student chapter and the engagement of the industry as a whole, has repeatedly proven to strongly prepare students for a wide range of post-graduate options.

The industry’s commitment to quality construction education is essential to the successful development of our future workforce. OSU is producing a unique class of engineers who possess a strong technical foundation, a strong practical experience, and well-developed interpersonal and leadership skills with a broad worldview. The mentorship opportunities that AGC student chapters provide, and the exposure to a number of post-graduation paths that they offer, are central building blocks to ensuring high-quality construction in our state.

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter. Contact him at 503-685-8305 or mikes@agc-oregon.org.

This article originally appeared in the Daily Journal of Commerce and can be found here (subscription required).

Share on