FIU’s Moss Department of Construction Management, within the College of Engineering & Computing, has long been considered one of the best in the country. The department is the second-highest ranked in Florida, ninth in the South and 34th in the United States. But what happens to such a prestigious program when crises, such as COVID-19, make operating as-normal impossible? The faculty, staff and students do what they do best – innovate, adapt and come up with new ways to get the job done.
Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction management programs were able to go completely remote. Not only that, but a free certificate program in construction trades offered to the public was also able to translate fully online. These normally hands-on programs faced the challenge of converting to a hands-off format. Yet, they managed to pull it off. By changing from face-to-face classes to remote options, the university is able to continue providing these world-class services to the students that need them.
The Moss Department of Construction Management offers two main degree programs – a bachelor’s in construction management and a master’s in construction management. The master’s degree already features both a face-to-face option and a fully online option. The bachelor’s currently only features a face-to-face option, but a fully online option is in the works.
“Most faculty were very well-versed on how to handle classes online, making for an easy transition, although some of the adjuncts had difficulty,” said Jose Faria, interim chair of the Moss Department of Construction Management.
One of the most challenging issues was exams, which could be proctored in a number of ways.
“Some students were used to that, some were a little more challenged,” said Faria.
For some students – such as those with full-time jobs and other obligations – the transition to online work was a relief. The removal of long commutes gave these students more time in their day.
“Everything went online really quickly. The students adapted well,” said Nipesh Pradhananga, assistant professor and graduate program director for the Moss Department of Construction. “We’re trying to keep the best of face-to-face classes, the best of both modalities.”
In addition to the two degree programs, the department also offers free programs to the public. These programs focus on construction trades and hazard safety.
“What was more challenging was our free certificate program for the community. This was most difficult to translate online,” said Faria. “Nevertheless, we were able to hold classes remotely. Those less tech-savvy were able to use their phones.”
The Certificate Program on Construction Trades, funded by the Lennar Foundation, is a free program designed to provide the community with the skills needed to succeed in the construction industry. The program provides food, transportation and the opportunity to speak to employers.
“We have already graduated 164 participants and are currently training 85 participants in the 14-week program and 84 in the six-month program from the most needed areas of our community,” said Faria.
The department also received the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Susan Harwood Training Grant, which provides bilingual contact training on hazard prevention to members of the community. For this program, it has been difficult to reach a portion of the key demographic due to a lack of access to technology on the part of the student.
“The main target is ground workers actually exposed to the dangers and people who need help understanding their rights,” said Pradhananga. “Sometimes it’s hard to reach the people that actually need the training.”
That being said, the certificate program has successfully continued with enough numbers to meet the target of the grant.
Pradhananga is involved on-campus with the Moss & Associates Built Environment Informatics Lab (BEIL), where students are given access to 3D-printers, Virtual Reality Devices, Laser Scanners, Robotics and other tools. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has shut BEIL down completely. The lab is expected to reopened when the university fully opens.
FIU has partnered with OSHA to host programs from other schools, as well. FIU is not an OSHA Training Institute (OTI) Education Center but serves as a host training organization for the OTI Education Center at Volunteer State Community College.
“We’re being recognized as leaders,” said Faria. “We received a $400,372 grant from the Florida Department of Education to sponsor and create a new pre-apprenticeship program. We are the first 4-year institution to obtain a pre-apprenticeship program in the state of Florida.”
FIU was the first university to receive approval to teach OSHA courses remotely.
“We are at the forefront of technology. We are pioneers in many aspects,” said Faria. “We have the tools and the people to accomplish these unique achievements.”