This issue, Precast Solutions speaks with Danny Xiao, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Xiao is in his fourth year at UW-Platteville, where he teaches construction materials- and transportation-related courses such as pavement design and transportation engineering, as well as introductory engineering courses.
Q: How did you learn about precast concrete, and why did you start including it in your curriculum?
A: I have been learning about precast concrete since I was an undergraduate. I personally believe precast is the solution to help concrete “gain time” during construction. For example, precast concrete can greatly reduce the closure time during highway repair; hence, reduce the safety concerns for both the workers and the traveling public. Because of this importance, it is worth the time to discuss precast concrete in my class.
Q: How do you integrate precast concrete into your curriculum?
A: In my construction materials class, we compare the difference between cast-in-place and precast concrete (e.g. slump and curing methods) in class. We are also fortunate to have industry partners who offer us field trips to precast plants and ready-mix plants so students can visit both types firsthand. In my transportation engineering class, we discuss precast concrete as an important tool for transportation engineers to reduce construction time (e.g. accelerated bridge construction and precast concrete paving slabs).
Q: How do you work with local precasters and suppliers? Do you go on plant tours, use guest lectures or seek out internship opportunities?
A: We are grateful for the support from County Materials Corporation, which has offered us field trips to their precast plants in Janesville and Madison. Students love the visits. Seeing a full-size, 150-foot-long prestressed girder and the automatic precast process was really exciting and inspiring. We will continue the field trip every semester in the future. Last year, we also invited Claude Goguen from NPCA to give us a guest lecture on precast concrete. We plan to invite more guest lecturers from the industry in the future. I don’t know of any student who has interned in the precast concrete industry yet, but I am very supportive in recommending students for such opportunities.
Q: Why is it important to expose students to construction materials such as precast concrete?
A: Students should learn precast concrete for two main reasons. First, precast concrete is a tool to reduce construction time. Second, precast concrete, fabricated in a controlled environment, can achieve better engineering properties than cast-in-place concrete.
Q: What do you think your students take away from the information you teach about precast concrete?
A: My goal is to let students be exposed to the concept of precast concrete, its advantages and challenges, successful examples, and when and where to use it. Precast concrete is a useful tool in a civil engineer’s toolbox; we teach them how to use the tool.
Q: What is the benefit of having an industry representative such as NPCA come present during your courses?
A: Seeing is believing. I don’t want to, but I have to admit that an industry representative teaches more effectively than I do because students respect his or her years of experience. Students love to hear about project examples with vivid pictures and videos. In addition, students often learn more from the speaker’s career path – how she or he grows from a student to an expert in the industry. We will continue to invite more guest speakers to our classroom.