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Construction Management program celebrates 50 years amid successful partnership with industry

At a recent 50th anniversary celebration event, Sacramento State Construction Management Department Chair Mikael Anderson, left, presented dozens of awards to significant affiliates of the program, such as retired faculty, staff, and alumni, including 1988 graduate Henry Meier, project executive at Swinerton Builders, right. (Sacramento State/Belen Torres)

In 1972, Don McLean’s “American Pie” was making music lovers smile, NASA was launching its space shuttle program, and Atari’s Pong video game was bouncing into arcades.

At Sacramento State, students were filing into classes to build their careers in a brand-new Construction Management (CM) program.

The program was part of Civil Engineering until it became its own department under the College of Engineering and Computer Science in 2012. By the early 2000s, it remained relatively small, with only about 130 students each year and a couple faculty.

Celebrating its golden anniversary this year, the program averages about 400 enrolled students annually and employs seven faculty, and between 20 and 30 part-time instructors.

“We have 100% job placement due to how well-prepared our graduates are for their career.” -- Mikael Anderson, Construction Management department chair

A strong bond between the program and the construction industry is a significant reason for its success. It’s a marriage that has grown exponentially stronger over the program's five decades.

“One of the things that I value most, since the very beginning of my tenure, is that we only hire people with very practical-oriented experience because this is a hands-on program,” said Mikael Anderson, CM department chair, who recently invited alumni, faculty, and staff to a 50th anniversary celebration where he gave out dozens of recognition awards.

“The industry-experienced faculty and instructors bring that very real knowledge to the classroom, and our students appreciate that aspect of our curriculum.”

The CM program was quite different in its early days, said alumnus Don Carroll, president of Western Engineering Contractors, Inc., a company he started in 1982 whose building projects include stadiums, school facilities, and shopping centers.

“They had a curriculum, they had a program put together … but it was more of an offshoot (of Engineering and Civil Engineering), and a lot of the classes were pretty old,” Carroll said.

When Dick Nichols retired from the industry and took over Sac State’s program, however, it began to take its modern shape, said Carroll, who was part of the first group to complete the full program in 1977. Nichols restructured coursework, updated curriculum, and added a business minor requirement.

“I was very thankful that he did because he was very hands-on. He knew construction,” Carroll said. “He basically was the architect of the program as we know it today.”

Carroll also serves on the board of the Sacramento Construction Management Education Foundation (SCMEF), a nonprofit established in 2004 to support CM faculty, staff, and students. SCMEF is a critical component of the CM program, Anderson said.

“SCMEF has been extremely impactful to our department and to me in my leadership,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here today without them volunteering hundreds of hours each year.”

Anderson said the business element is one of the ways CM helps students succeed in the field.

“At the end of the day, yes, you’re doing construction, but you’re really managing people, you’re managing work, you’re managing a business,” Anderson said. “We feel a business degree is essential to our graduates’ success in the industry.”

Additionally, students are able to participate in internships part time during the semester and work full time in the summer, Anderson said.

“Other CM programs offer full-time internships in the summers but often are not able to offer part-time internships during the academic year due to their remote locations,” Anderson said. “Our CM program is located in the heart of urban Sacramento, with many construction companies within 15 to 30 minutes of campus, allowing our students to work between classes.”

Sac State’s partnership with industry also translates to concrete job opportunities.

“We have 100% job placement due to how well-prepared our graduates are for their career,” Anderson said. “Employers tell us that our graduates are ready to hit the ground running.”

Natane Rogers-Engle, a 2009 graduate, said Sac State’s CM classes set her up for a strong future.

“That program as a whole makes a big impact,” said Rogers-Engle, who recently became president and a co-owner of SR Diversified, LLC, which provides construction and other services for federal, state, and local agencies and public utilities. “It prepared me as much as I think any program could for doing my job.”

A source of pride for the department, Anderson said, is a yearly national competition in Nevada in which Sac State has participated since the event launched in the 1980s. Approximately 2,000 students compete each year, including about 70 from Sac State.

Teams of six students each have 24 hours to respond to a prompt asking for a project proposal that includes construction costs, scheduling, and other important information. Teams orally present their proposals to a panel of industry judges. The event culminates in an award presentation and a participant-exclusive job fair in Sparks, Nevada.

“The level of competition has risen a lot in 20 years – it used to be easier to win competitions. Now it’s a little bit hard because everybody’s kind of doing a similar approach to us,” Anderson said. “Our formula for success was bringing in our industry coaches.”

Anderson has tracked Sac State’s performance in the event since 2003. In that time, students have earned 79 awards: 31 first place, 27 second place, and 21 third place.

“Most schools are lucky enough to get one podium appearance,” Anderson said. “We’re one of a handful of schools that get two or three every year, sometimes more.”

Carroll said he and other alumni who own businesses stay involved with the CM program long after graduation. Many offer internships, scholarships, and jobs, and return to teach. Some businesses, including Carroll’s, reimburse students’ tuitions as part of permanent job placement offers.

“Although I am not an alumnus from this program, I’m very invested and passionate after 20 years of teaching,” Anderson said. “I love this program. I can no longer imagine another career path. It’s the best decision I have made in my engineering profession.”

Construction management
Mikael Anderson, chair of Sacramento State's Construction Management program, middle, chats with affiliates of the department during a recent event celebrating its 50th anniversary, where Anderson presented dozens of CM faculty, staff, alumni and others with awards. (Sacramento State/Belen Torres)

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About Daniel Wilson

Daniel Wilson joined the Sac State communications team in 2022 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at the Sacramento Bee as an audience engagement producer and reporter. He graduated from Sac State with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 2018. He plays video games, watches pro wrestling, and loves spending time with his wife and cat.

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