Construction as a Teaching Tool

Seaver College of Science and Engineering is using the construction of its new life sciences home as a unique learning opportunity for its civil engineering students.

Geotechnical and structural engineering are fundamental subjects for civil engineering students – they have to know the properties of the soil and the structural behavior of anything they will build. Practical study is an essential part of this process, of course, and civil engineering students in the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering get to engage in the ultimate lab: They study a building under construction.

That’s the unique opportunity being given to engineering students over the next 18 months during construction of Seaver College’s $110 million state-of-the art Life Sciences building. As the structure is built, Seaver College professors Joe Reichenberger and Michael Manoogian are offering to their students this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study how buildings are designed and built. Using elements of visible, tangible construction is smart, cohesive thinking that leads to a more complete engineering education, giving students an immediate advantage at graduation time.

Reichenberger, a civil engineering professor, introduced his students to this unique opportunity by bringing the geotechnical report of the Seaver Life Sciences building with him on the first class of the fall semester. “On that very first day, I ask students in my Geotechnical Engineering class about how many drawings it takes to detail and design a building,” he says. “They don’t know.” He then opens the voluminous geotechnical report that they will study for the rest of the semester. “We go through the geotechnical report page by page. They learn where all the numbers in the report come from.” The lesson is learned. “They see that the procedures they’re doing in their labs are the same ones they’ll be doing in
their careers,” he continues. “They see the end product because the classroom we use is in the front of Pereira Hall, and the construction site is across the street.” Civil engineering student Callie Aaker ’14 took the class and gained real-world knowledge. “Looking at the reports in soils class really showed me how they designed the building,” she recalls. “Being exposed to the different aspects of the construction taught me how engineering is in the field. It was really cool to see the theory and then the design and construction – right next door.”

Manoogian, a civil engineering professor, uses the plans for the new building to teach the development of structural loads and choice of framing elements. “We took a tour of the construction site early on, to see the soldier pile
shoring walls,” he explains. “In earlier classes, they looked at single pieces of structure – a beam, a column, in isolation. The work in this class helps them put all of that together with loads they would actually calculate and to do a design for a structure.” “One of the assignments in this class involves getting the appropriate environmental loads, appropriate floor loads and roof loads for one of the wings of the new building. The students had to develop all the code loads, select the proper structural members and then write a technical structural report.” Manoogian is also teaching a construction engineering class, incorporating contract documents, drawings and specifications from the new building. “Studying the Life Sciences building gives students more than what would normally be just throwing numbers around. Their biggest growth is from understanding how it all works.”

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