Annual Construction Institute Student Days presents real-world challenges, opportunities

For the first time, the annual Construction Institute’s (CI) Student Days heavy civil engineering team challenge was held as an online event this summer.

The real-world lessons and opportunities afforded by the competition, however, remained the same.

“It was pretty much like my senior capstone design project condensed into one weekend,” said Erin Bereyso, S.M.ASCE, a second-time Student Days attendee. “It was a lot of work but a lot of fun too.”

CI Student Days is a summer staple of the ASCE calendar, typically happening over the course of a long weekend as an in-person gathering of some of ASCE’s best and brightest civil engineering students for a series of presentations, networking events, and the team competition.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s event focused on webinars and did not include a team challenge. But this summer, with more planning time and a year’s experience of organizing virtual events, the program committee – chaired by Gabrielle Grompone, EIT, MSCE, A.M. ASCE – was able to develop a Student Days schedule that included a fully online heavy civil challenge and special features that took advantage of the virtual platform.

“Last year was like the beginning of being online,” said Jose Wu, S.M.ASCE, another second-time Student Days attendee. “I can say with certainty, nobody was used to the new normal yet. But probably because we have a little more experience now, this year was easier to work in the virtual setting.”

The 2021 Student Days featured three weeks of webinars (three per week complete with assignments for the student attendees) on topics including proposals, scheduling, construction management and value engineering, and estimating, among others.

The competition split the attendees into teams, requiring them over the course of about 72 hours to develop a written and oral real-world construction project proposal that considers local laws and regulations, surrounding residential and commercial areas, and traffic effects.

There were even planned curveballs thrown at the teams midway through the weekend.

“You have to build a proposal, but they keep giving you new information and circumstances. What if this happened? Or what would you do if this changed?” Wu said.

“That was definitely challenging. But it can happen in real life – suddenly the client wants to change something. It was very interesting, but I’m glad they did it that way.”

The “Structure Constructors” team begins their proposal presentation during the 2021 CI Student Days competition. PHOTO: Erin Bereyso

Bereyso, a 2021 ASCE New Face of Civil Engineering college honoree, starts graduate school next week at Virginia Tech, studying environmental engineering. She served as one of the team captains at Student Days and won the award for overall best speaker during the presentation portion of the competition.

“I was the only person in the Student Days competition who didn’t have any specifically construction background,” Bereyso said. “So that was intimidating going into it. But there were definitely things that I was able to take away from it that apply not only to construction but to project management in general.

“Developing those kinds of skills – like communication, especially in today’s virtual society – it was really good experience.”

And Wu, also a team captain, navigated the challenges of managing his group online over different time zones. His team, dubbed “Lancer,” earned the 2021 Student Days team challenge championship.

“I think whether we won or not, the team was still be proud of the work because we gave our best,” Wu said. “It was more about having the experience; that was the rewarding thing.”

He added, laughing a little, though, “It was still a nice feeling, winning the competition.”

Learn more about CI Student Days.

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