Thursday, February 24, 2011

The CM Machine

Looking back at Reno, it's staggering how many people contributed. From event volunteers to bus drivers, sponsors to technical support staff, those to thank number in the dozens.

Tony Songer

As chair of the Construction Management Department, Tony was involved in myriad administrative aspects of the competition. But you may not know that he also coached the second-place Design Build Team and the Building Information Modeling Team AND rode the bus with the students to Reno and back to Boise. That's dedication (or a temporary lapse in sanity).

Joan Hartz

To the CM department, Joan is not known as an administrative assistant — she’s "Mom." Students, faculty and staff are in agreement that the Reno competition could not and would not happen without her. She's a travel agent, accountant, technical support specialist, counselor, image consultant, comedian, courier and supply closet rolled into one.

Casey Cline

Despite the fact that Boise State teams competed in 10 divisions, some of them overlapping, it seemed like Casey was at every single presentation in Reno. In class as an assistant professor and everywhere else, he was a motivating force, whipping the student body into shape on the front end so they would shine on judgment day. And they did, including the Commercial Team and Concrete Solutions Team, both of which he coached.

Kirsten Davis

An assistant professor and official coach of the Preconstruction Team, Kirsten used her attention to detail and hands-on accessibility to support all of the teams in Reno. As questions popped up, she was there with answers for anyone and everyone who needed them. Maybe it's her generous nature, or maybe it has something to do with the fact that she has four degrees and industry experience. Yowsa.

Bill Mincks

Bill took on coaching duties for both the Marine Team and Multi-Family Team, meaning he had twice the heartburn and hopes going into the event. Both teams impressed, with Multi-Family barely missing a first place trophy. A special lecturer in the department, he also was a calming force in the blur of Reno.

Wendy Wendrowski

Even in the ancient world, assessment of risk must have been part of the construction of enduring wonders from the pyramids to the Great Wall. Today, we have experts like Wendy, an adjunct professor who mentored and coached the Determining Project Risk Team. Especially during the planning stages of the overall competition strategy, she was engaged and expressive, two qualities that exemplify the best in the field.

Tom Woodall

As visiting professors go, Tom is one of the most passionate and engaged on either side of the Mississippi. An elite military veteran and heavy hitting professional engineer, he brought expertise, insight and crucial industry contacts to the champion Heavy Civil Team. They call him "The Colonel" for a reason.

Sondra Miller

Moonlighting from the Department of Civil Engineering, Sondra lent her environmental engineering chops and infectious energy to the LEED Team. Having served as faculty-in-residence in Boise State's Engineering Residential College for three years, she is a proven student advocate and friend. And we hear she makes some mean Italian food.

Francisco Castellon

While the foundation provided by Mom and the faculty coaches is essential, imagine what would happen without Francisco. A systems administrator for Boise State's entire College of Engineering, this IT guy extraordinaire has an amazing ability to problem solve and prioritize, even in the face of freaked out, sleep starved victims of computer mischief. Did we mention he does it with a smile on his face?

In the Reno trenches with these core supporters were other staff and volunteers who deserve serious recognition, including:

Student Volunteers

Tim Brewer
Patrick Boel
Spencer Davis
Chuck Dedeker
Adrienne Foote
Jerrod Penttila
Kristin Schmidt
Joel Stevens

Bus Drivers

Jim Shelly
Gary Turner

Boise State also depended on the support of many local companies and individuals in bringing the students to Reno (see post #2 for a comprehensive list). At the highest level of investment, team sponsors included Builders Mechanical Inc. (Commercial), ESI (Design Build), Idaho Youth Education Recycling Program (LEED), MarCon Inc. (Concrete Solutions), McMillen LLC (Preconstruction Services), Staker Parson Co.-Idaho Sand & Gravel (Risk) and URS Energy and Construction (Heavy Civil).

Each team learned from and practiced with industry mentors. These connections provided some of the most key real-world pieces to the puzzle, and every success is owed in part to the time and energy donated. All will be specially honored at the Reno wrap-up celebration slated for sometime in March.

Best for last. The STUDENTS. Regardless of the outcome of the competition, everyone who did the work and threw down in Reno deserves respect and acknowledgment. Ask the problem sponsors what they think of the ASC Student Competition and the reaction will be the same — a chuckle, a shake of the head and personal memories about how impossible and thrilling it was to get it done on the other side. Thank you, Broncos. You did us proud.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Before and After

For those who couldn't be there, this video follows Boise State's regional champion Heavy Civil Team through the moments before their formal presentation, their introduction to the Kiewit panel, and acceptance of the award for first place.

It was a sweet moment, and only the beginning of the honors going to Boise State in the 2011 competition.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Legacy Continues

A little suspense never hurt anyone, right? If you've been following the story of Boise State's CM students and the hopefuls on its Heavy Civil Team, this is your official update on the outcome of the 24th annual ASC Region 6 student competition.

If you couldn't tell from the trophy in Heavy Civil coach Tom Woodall's arms below, the guys won FIRST PLACE, beating out second place Colorado State University and third place Montana State University. Montana has four of the plaques currently on the trophy. With this win, Boise State has three. As the team gathered on stage to accept the award, the massive Bronco contingent made some serious noise. Check back for a video of the moment of victory.

This means the team is bound for nationals in Texas, where they'll have a shot at showing they're the best in the country.

As if one win wasn't enough, two other Boise State teams placed in the top three in their categories. The Multi-Family Team came away with a huge second place, beating third place Southern Utah University and losing to BYU by a reported 3/10 of a point.

The Design Build Team also took second, beating powerhouse competitor Arizona State while Colorado State took first. They didn't look too disappointed with the distinction, and neither was the crowd.

We won't know exactly how the other teams compared to their pools until the ASC tallies and posts all of the scores, but all should be proud of their hard work and achievement. Until next year, they can rally around the Heavy Civil trophy, which is soon to be adorned with a Boise State sticker.

This week, in tandem with a formal media announcement, this blog will be the frame for a lot of particular recognition. Until then, thank you to everyone involved. It was unforgettable.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Generation to Generation

The ASC competition is about much more than bragging rights. On Saturday morning, before the awards are announced, the hundreds of talented students involved have a chance to meet and greet with potential employers. Many of them walk away with internships or interviews, and every contact made is a valuable tool.

Boise State Marine Team faculty coach Bill Mincks explained that the experience over the last three days is intended to help the next generation of construction managers not only discover their passions but also connect them to the right people in the generation already working across the United States and the world. Unlike so many other academic disciplines these days, CM has events like this that essentially are direct pipelines to the job market. If you prove your worth in this arena, chances are you'll get the proverbial foot in the door.

Best of luck to the Boise State undergraduates making the rounds at the fair. In a matter of minutes, the winners of the competition will be announced, but the strategizing for next year has already begun.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Where We Stand

At 5:20 p.m., the six main members of the Heavy Civil Team stood and introduced themselves. Despite running out of time just shy of showing their final slide, their presentation was rock solid, with everyone shouldering some of the tonnage (after this many long days, bad construction puns are excusable).

Then Kiewit, the problem sponsor, laid out how they had completed the project in the real world. While they initially used a barge to float rocks from a quarry to the jetty job site, it turned out that was not the best way, something the Boise State team picked up on early in reviewing the plans.

As a spectator, several things will stick in my mind from the presentation:
  • Laser pointers are not your friend.
  • Sometimes the word "clamshell" just doesn't come to you.
  • The immortal words of Jared Staub: "Wetlands? No touchy."

After all of the teams got their bid book and presentation scores back, Captain Steve totaled the points. The total this year is the highest total of any Boise State team ever to compete in the Heavy Civil category, and it's higher than the winning score at Reno last year.

Without putting a jinx on the situation, I'm happy to say that whatever the outcome, this team deserves credit. They took the challenge seriously, and I hope they will be seriously rewarded. The free hot wings are nice, but trophies are nicer.


It all comes down to this. Six months of intensive training for one day. Interestingly, that's the same schedule runners use to prepare for a marathon. Presentations are going on all over the Nugget, and the atmosphere is electric.

Boise State's Design Build Team, coached by CM department chair Tony Songer, made an elegant case for their proposal. Each speaker was poised, personable and, most importantly, knowledgeable about his part of the package. From sophisticated animations and graphs to off-the-cuff solutions, they made their way confidently through the presentation and Q&A to the handshakes at the end. There's no way to know how they'll stack up against their eight challengers, but Tony and the other faculty and students in attendance were proud to be wearing the same logo.

Earlier in the day on another floor, the Marine Team and coach Bill Mincks were up against a tough panel of industry experts. Tony explained that of the construction categories in the competition, Marine is one of the most specialized and complex. Because of the unusual working environment, it requires a lot more safeguards and hypothetical thinking.

Despite some difficult questions, the team members supported each other through each challenge, justifying their plans with authority. They completed several practice problems before coming to Reno for the real thing, but nothing compares to being under the hot lights and gazes of people who know the subject matter through and through. There is no way to fake it, and Boise State's Marine Team never did. We'll have to see how things shake out in the awards ceremony tomorrow, but the team delivered. It's a Bronco thing.

Down to the Wire

With a few whole minutes to spare, Heavy Civil busted out of their room with their finished materials in hand. We were waiting outside. With a camera. And running shoes.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


There has been a lot of talk this week about the value of "intangibles," the characteristics that might not be on a resume, but that rocket new college grads to success in any field.

Judging by this snap of the Preconstruction Team, the Boise State bunch has some serious intangibles. At the very least, they have patience and trust enough in each other to build a human pyramid. We'll have to ask coach Kirsten Davis if this is part of the pre-Reno training.

Professional Perspective

"There's never one right answer. That's the beauty of construction," said Jim Stenger.

We were in Heavy Civil headquarters on the 18th floor of the Nugget’s West Tower, and Kiewit people and laptops were everywhere. They were winding up the Request for Information session, a 6-hour window when teams can mine information from the experts behind the competition problem. The questions and answers are broadcast to everyone, so no one has an unfair advantage.

Stenger, a district quality and environmental manager for Kiewit who will judge the presentations tomorrow, was helping generate those answers. But he said requests aren’t always met, giving the students a taste of the real world. Sometimes they get exactly the details they’re asking for. Sometimes they’re told to review the specs more carefully. Sometimes they’re asked simply to “be creative.”

“We want them to struggle a little bit and learn something in the process,” Stenger said.

One of the individuals making sure they struggle constructively is Darrin Shelby, a Kiewit Alaska area sponsor who led the project that became this year’s Heavy Civil competition problem. On an existing jetty built to protect state park land from the violent waters off the Oregon coast, he managed a capping repair involving 37,000 tons of rock, rogue whales, salmon boats, tourists, high tide, rotting railroad ties, and plenty more monkey wrenches thrown in the mix.

When asked if companies ever pass on RFPs with daunting scopes or complexity, Shelby spoke for the room.

“We love jobs like this because they’re challenging and restrict the bidders who are scared to do it,” he said.

The student teams don’t have time to be scared (and fortunately, their missteps only have virtual consequences). Before 10:30 p.m., they must have completed a project schedule, cost estimate and technical proposal. If they don’t make the cutoff, it means immediate disqualification.

Either way, all 14 teams in Region 6 will present their work to the Kiewit panel on Friday, not to mention recruiters from the several dozen companies on hand for the job fair. Kiewit craft superintendent Matt Hemsath will be among them.

“Watching the presentations, you can pick out the leaders. You can tell who has a head on their shoulders,” he said. “If we make any new hires, most of them will go into what they’re working on today, but for real dollars.”

Real dollars drive the industry, and the ASC competition in Reno gives students a direct pipeline to opportunities with companies such as Kiewit and fellow problem sponsors Mortenson Construction, Layton Construction Company, McCarthy Building Companies Inc., Granite Construction Inc., Hensel Phelps Construction Co., Morley Builders, Swinerton Inc., Clark Construction Group, Kinetics, Webcor Builders, General Construction Co., Skanska, PCL Construction Services Inc., DPR Construction Inc., Cupertino Electric Inc., and Sundt.

Getting attention (and interviews) depends on performance. But even for the teams that don’t walk away with their names on a trophy, the experience is unmatched in its ability to inspire them to be their best selves and deliver in a way that can raise more than one veteran eyebrow.

“Students are very innovative,” Stenger said. “That’s what keeps it fun. They come from a different point of view.”

The Waiting Game

About 12 hours have passed since alarms went off this morning, and the teams are still at work. All we supporters can do is silently wish them well and hope some of the luck in the casino is up for grabs.

Of course, the top teams will not be decided by luck. But it never hurts.

Neither does an inspirational quote from an infamously tenacious American:

When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

Inside the Action

Before the teams went into full quarantine, we followed Boise State's Heavy Civil clan through the problem presentation this morning.

The guys talked a little game for fun, but they are well aware of the quality of every team they're up against. They know they have to be totally on the ball today to have a chance at getting their alma mater on the trophy and into the esteem of the Kiewit judges.

Click for a taste of the experience.

Game Time

Walking to the conference room for the problem presentation in the black hours of the morning, it was kind of like being part of a steelhead run. Everyone was quiet, eyes forward.

The 14 Heavy Civil teams were greeted by the competition trophy and representatives of Kiewit. As the problem sponsor, Kiewit presented the day's challenge -- a capping repair on a jetty head off the coast of Oregon, near Tillamook (land of happy cows). Before this moment, the teams had no idea what the job would be.

The details were presented by Darrin Shelby, who managed the project through its completion. While the plan includes only six drawings, he explained that by no means was the execution simple. Curious whales and salmon fishing rigs, beach-goers and campers, the sweep of the tide and the horrendous weather the NW coast is known for, permitting and environmental concerns -- it seemed like the added stresses on top of the basic technical demands were endless.

"But that's what you've got," Shelby said.

The teams were given a chance to review the plan and ask questions. Then Kiewit laid out the time line: 10:30 p.m. cut-off for proposal submission / 7 a.m. turn-in time for presentation materials.

"Don't plan on jumping out of the elevator and throwing your proposal in our doorway in the final seconds," said Kiewit's Darren Seaman. "There's about 100 yards you have to sprint."

Then the panel wished the competitors luck, and it was off to the war room.

Just like everything else involved in the Reno competition, the set-up of the team rooms is planned well in advance. While only the team members can be in the inner sanctum during the action, we were able to get a glimpse of their digs. The judges also will see the layout when they drop by (unexpectedly), and what they find has an effect on their overall opinion of the group. If the room is functioning like a professional office, then everything is aces. The students even have to answer the phone as a company would.

And how did Boise State's Heavy Civil team feel on the front end? Confident, but not cocky. And what does their coach, Tom Woodall think?

"This team could come in first," he said. "This team could do it."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Power in Numbers

First things first. More than 70 Boise State construction management students gathered (and high-fived) under the lights at the Nugget tonight, representing many, many collective brain cells and dreams of domination. The evening brought together more than 1,000 students from all over the country, but none seemed to cheer as loud as the Broncos when the blue logo flashed on the big screen.

Shimmick Construction Co. equipped all of the teams with competition T-shirts, and Stacy and Witbeck treated the entire group to a lavish meal and inspirational speeches by three of the company's finest -- engineers Jesse Williams and John Bocknecht and senior vice president John Zehner. Although their styles were different, all three essentially said the same thing. It's the intangible qualities that shine the brightest, and doing your best should be a given.

After dinner, a prize drawing of donated goodies made a few lucky winners very happy, and a few others very embarrassed. Everything from cameras to iPods and tools were doled out, and the big ticket items came at a price. Three winners had to show their sweetest dance moves to the room (video coming soon). Let's just say there was one valiantly attempted worm, some violent knee thrusting, and a trio attempting to do the monkey and the sprinkler at the same time. Fortunately, after the competition, most of these people will have day jobs.

Now it's off to bed. The alarm goes off at 5:30 sharp.

The View from the Finish Line

En route to Reno, Heavy Civil coach and industry veteran Tom Woodall put the competition in perspective. While the final presentations and awards are exciting, they are the tip of an iceberg running down miles under the surface.

"What the kids have to go through to get to the final 20 minutes on Friday is tremendous," Tom said.

The clock starts in August, when the announcement is made to all CM students that the ASC competition in Reno is open to those who have what it takes. Requirements include weekly meetings, intensive technical training with mentors, endless research, practice problems and presentations, and many other things you won't find in a syllabus. Those left standing after they hear the details form teams, and the real work begins.

Tom said the students depend not only on the knowledge and guidance of their faculty coaches but also on industry professionals who volunteer their time to get the teams up to speed.

"What this produces is an individual who is persistent and wants to learn, who has the dedication to put it all on the line and deliver," he said. "The industry likes that person. That person is tested."

Lucky for the competitors, the industry will be in the room when they present. Recruiters from dozens of top companies will be in the audience, looking for the nuts and bolts (honesty, work ethic, technical skill) as well as the X-factor.

The X-factor is the thing that separates a good construction manager from a standout leader. LEED coach and civil engineering professor Sondra Miller used the analogy of a military commander directing troops.

"It's management; it's not control," she said. "It's about picking the right people to do a job and then letting them do it. It's emotional intelligence."

Or, in Tom's succinct words: "Know your people."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Men of Heavy Civil

Armed with energy drinks, massive binders and enough laptops to stage a coup on Facebook headquarters, the Heavy Civil team worked through a practice problem a few weeks ago.

Freshman Cody Allison said he was looking forward to presenting in front of people who know what they're talking about. He's been working for Idaho Sand & Gravel for 9 years.

"I started right out of high school and was a foreman by 21," he said. He's hoping to advance in the field when his Boise State degree is complete, possibly in a foreign country. Maybe Australia.

While Cody did research, Junior Shane Medley was going through PDF plans and logging things into the project schedule. Junior Nick Meyer was focused on entering line item costs into a spreadsheet. And Seniors Matt Wilson and Jared "Jerry" Staub were examining the pipe work on the plans.

"We're measuring the engineers' work, trying to spot the discrepancies that might make a difference."

What he means is, the construction problems teams are given in Reno often contain elements meant to throw them off or check their level of care. Nothing is certain. Except for the team talisman that is Jerry's mullet.

"Power flows through the mullet," he joked. "There may be a ceremonial cutting at the competition."

For team captain and senior Steve Earl, the real power comes from the tightness of the group and their shared dedication to getting the job done. And that includes alternates Brack Judy, a senior, and Robert Nichol, a junior.

"We have the technical knowledge; now we need to pull it all together," Steve said.

Tomorrow, the teams hit the road for Reno. For inspiration beyond the mullet, they might remember the words of billionaire business mogul Warren Buffett, who wrote the introduction to the 125th anniversary of North American construction/engineering giant Kiewit:

Buffett said: Peter Kiewit didn't just build buildings - he built confidence and integrity. He built leadership.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The People Behind the Program

As the teams complete final prep before they hit the road next week, we can’t help but think about all of the people who are making the trip possible.

Without the generous support of company sponsors and individual donors, Boise State would not be sending any CM students to Reno.

“This is an invaluable experience for our students, and we can’t do it without our circle of friends,” Tony said. As department chair, he has seen firsthand how every dollar makes a difference.

Doing the heaviest lifting are the team sponsors. A million times thank you for believing in the students and investing in their future.

Team Sponsors
  • Builders Mechanical (Commercial Team)
  • ESI (Design Build Team)
  • Idaho Youth Education Recycling Program (LEED Team)
  • MarCon, Inc. (Concrete Team)
  • McMillen, LLC (Preconstruction Services Team)
  • Staker Parson Co. - Idaho Sand & Gravel (Determining Project Risk Team)
  • URS Energy and Construction (Heavy Civil Team)

Huge thanks also to the rest of our circle, which includes alums, family and allies in industry.


Idaho Associated General Contractors
Knife River Corporation
Central Paving Company, Inc.
Coleman Homes, LLC
Ozman Construction
Petra, Inc.
Starr Corporation
Traylor Brothers
Cloverdale Plumbing
River Bank
Rosendin Electric, Inc.
Rudolph and Sletton
The Russell Corporation
Western Construction, Inc.


William and Carol Deasy
Patrick and Bobbie Allaire
Smilie and Virginia Anderson
Casey Cline
Ivan and Elizabeth Custer
Timothy Jones
Paul and C. Barton Marlow
Torry and Kim McAlvain
Bill Mincks
Kelly and Ann Newton
Ryan Tabuchi
Thomas Woodall