Meeting the Needs of Industry
Drexel University is a private research institution located in Philadelphia. With a commitment to balance classroom theory with practical real-world experience, Drexel University prepares its students for a dynamic career in construction management.
Drexel University’s Construction Management Program has been part of the university since 1975, with a mission “to raise the levels of professionalism, integrity, ethical practice and performance within the construction industry.” “It was initially a part-time evening program set in a professional college,” says Christine Fiori, Ph.D., PE, program director and clinical professor of the Construction Management Program at Drexel University. “The program came from an industry need for construction education,” she explains.
“Now, since the early 2000s, our undergraduate program is a full-time, on campus program, fully accredited by the American Council for Construction Education or ACCE,” says Fiori. “Our graduate program, the Master of Science in Construction Management, is completely online, and focuses on giving professionals the opportunity to develop multidisciplinary skills to meet the challenges of today’s construction managers.”
Drexel University has recently begun the redevelopment of all courses at its master’s level; it has standardized what a Construction Management Course should look like and the way the course should be delivered overall. “That’s a big benchmark for us, in increasing and improving the quality of our online offering,” says Fiori. “And then, within our undergraduate program, we have completely redone our curriculum. We’ve included components that were (in the past) simply electives for our students. And we’ve now made them requirements; things like sustainable practices with respect to construction, technology, the use of building information modeling, and construction safety are within our undergraduate curriculum,” she says.
“We’re upgrading our curriculum to include the things that the construction industry has said is definitely needed,” says Fiori. “We were looking at where the gaps were in other construction management programs, and one of the things that the industry brought to our attention is that our students, while they were very good technically, tended to fall a little short when it came to some of the soft skills. Things like emotional intelligence and leadership and communications and negotiation skills, tended to be lacking in students. So, we added three courses,” says Fiori. “One course is related to best communication practices of successful construction managers; we designed that course with industry leaders and mentors who give their tips for how they succeeded. We have a leadership course focused on the challenges that many of our students will face as they enter into the job market, especially on project sites. And we have a course in construction negotiations and marketing skills, because a lot of what we do in our industry these days is contract negotiations and negotiating changes with our owners and our subcontractors.”
Drexel University’s principles and standards are driven by inclusivity and diversity. “Primarily, when Anthony J Drexel founded the university, his vision back in 1892 was that no one should be denied an education based upon their race, religion, gender or socio-economic status, which now is pretty common for almost every university, but back in 1892, it definitely was not a common theme,” says Fiori.
And Drexel University has stayed true to that vision. “The university was set up as a working person’s university where you could work during the day and attend school at night. It has maintained that attitude. We cater to the working professional as well as full-time, more traditional types of students.”
Drexel University is very actively engaged in the community, with a strategic plan to have its students and faculty involved both within the community and globally, with respect to service. “There has been some redevelopment of the Drexel University Construction Association – our student clubs, and they have been highly involved with various community service activities as well as some internal events that have been going on in the program,” says Kenneth S. Sands II, Ph.D, Assistant Teaching Professor.
In the fall term, Drexel University entered two teams in the Associated Schools of Construction (ASC) competition. “One of the key things about that was the success of our students,” says Sands. “We had two teams; the commercial team got first place whereas the heavy civil team got second place, and it was only based on a minor issue. We’re very proud of those accomplishments.”
One challenge faced by Drexel University’s Construction Management Program is its enrollment. “Getting people excited about construction is something that tends to be a little difficult,” says Fiori. “A lot of folks think: Why do you need a degree in construction management? That’s one of the reasons why we really try to rebrand what we’re doing.”
Another challenge the program faces is with regards to modernizing the curriculum. “Being able to ensure that a lot of what has been done within the industry is actually adopted by the curriculum can be a challenge,” says Sands. “But we have good connections and communication with our industry partners, and we try to implement new strategies and techniques that they’ve adopted. We push the envelope in regards to what can be done in the industry and hopefully, our students are able to contribute to that.”
Drexel University is very proud of its online programs. “Our master’s online program is rapidly growing. And piece by piece, we are developing our undergraduate program. Within the next five years, we would really like to have our undergraduate program completely online too, so that students can have the option of either coming in face-to-face or being online,” says Fiori. “This would expand our footprint across the United States and across the world. We’ve seen it [online programs] function really well on the master’s level so we’d like to be able to do that with the undergraduate program as well.
“While we’re working to put our undergraduate program online, with our graduate program, we’re also looking to develop a full-time, face-to-face master’s program,” shares Fiori. “We want the undergrads to go online and we want some grads to be able to come on campus. As a program, we really want to reach out to more students and be able to offer our degree programs in new and creative ways. It will take a while because the level of expectation we have with respect to our online classes is a lot higher than that of many universities. It takes a good six to nine months to develop a course to be put online. And we’re not going to put something out that we are not proud of.”
Drexel University also likes to stay connected with students and alumni through social media. “We haven’t ventured into Instagram yet but we use Facebook and Twitter as a means to update whoever it is in the community,” says Sands. “Followers can see what’s going on and what we do on a daily basis here [in the Construction Management Program]. It’s a work in progress, but we continuously work on trying to develop and update our social media accounts.”
The program keeps its social media up-to-date with regards to both the fun and academic happenings in the program. “We’ll take pictures of different activities that faculty are doing in their classes,” says Fiori. “We try to provide a good balance so that somebody looking at it will see that you can be a student in the program and still have a life. We have a lot of athletes in our program; they can play a sport and still come to Drexel.”
“We’re also really positioned well, between Washington and New York,” says Sands. “We have a lot in this area, with construction, financing and real estate development. And there are so many opportunities occurring in the city right now, which include a development happening on campus and a whole rebuild initiative that the city is going through where it’s looking to engage students. It’s a really exciting time to be a student at Drexel.”
As Drexel University works toward improving its programs and offerings, it continues to be an institution of higher learning that respects and values the students it serves, while aiming to serve the needs of industry and the broader community.