With the help of an NPCA Foundation scholarship, Jerry Xiong found his calling in the precast concrete industry.
Every year in the U.S., more than 1.7 million private scholarships and fellowships are awarded to promising young students. For many, these funds are vital. In fact, Sallie Mae says 25% of higher education is funded through scholarships and grants.
However, scholarships can actually serve a dual purpose of providing much-needed funds and teaching recipients about an industry. NPCA Foundation scholarships serve both of these objectives, and California State University, Chico, graduate Jerry Xiong is the perfect example of how this can benefit the individual and an industry.
A great opportunity
When Xiong graduated from high school he set his sights on mechanical engineering, but soon realized that probably wasn’t the best career path for him. He was in that program for a year before switching over to computer science. After realizing that also was not the right fit, he began to explore other career and educational opportunities that would allow him to be more hands-on with work.
When attending an on-campus session about construction management and civil engineering, he stopped at a booth that introduced students to opportunities in the Concrete Industry Management (CIM) program, and Xiong was immediately interested. Individuals running the booth talked to him about working with concrete, understanding soil quality, and making the distinctions among concrete, asphalt and cement.
“It was something interesting and something new for me to learn about,” Xiong said. “I did more research and switched my major to the CIM program.”
After declaring his new major, Xiong learned about the NPCA Foundation scholarships and quickly filled out the application. He was soon looking for a way to apply his technical knowledge in a real-world work environment, which the scholarship also provided.
While in school, Xiong learned the details of raw materials and mix design, the latter of which is a critical component of good precast production.
“We learned all about the different aggregates, which mixes to use in which types of environmental conditions, and many other points that proved useful when I started working in the field,” said Xiong, who feels that he graduated with a broad understanding of precast design and production. “I learned a little bit of everything, and that really helped when it came time to actually start working.”
Focusing on School
The scholarship helped cover Xiong’s rent, bills and other expenses and allowed him to focus on school and graduate as quickly as possible. The CIM program gave Xiong a strong, fundamental knowledge of concrete. He learned about project management, production and quality practices. For some hands-on experience in precast, he completed an internship with Oldcastle Infrastructure in Stockton, Calif.
In 2018, Xiong applied for another internship, this time at Jensen Precast’s Sacramento, Calif., location. He liked that the company was working toward its NPCA certification, family-owned and had an environmentally sustainable operating approach.
“I really enjoyed my internship (at Jensen),” he said. “I did a lot of cycling from department to department, doing training and learning the ropes.”
Upon graduating from CSU Chico’s CIM program, Xiong received an email from the Jensen plant manager he worked for, Mike Gardner, asking him if he would be interested in a position as the plant’s quality control supervisor. Xiong accepted and in that position he’s responsible for all facets of quality, including pre-pour, post-pour, pressure testing and revisions.
“He regularly works with our engineering team, updating it on all of the details and ensuring compliance,” said Gardner, who has been working with Xiong for about a year. “Jerry also works closely with our regular vendors, like Caltrans and Sacramento Municipal Utility District.”
Gardner said Xiong’s work ethic is second to none, giving him a lot of potential in the precast industry. From the technical perspective, Gardner says his appreciates Xiong’s expertise.
“He’s here every day putting in the work and he’s a natural leader,” he said. “Jerry also isn’t afraid to speak up when he needs to.”
Xiong felt his education gave him a leg up when applying for jobs in the precast industry. He said he learned much more than the basics and expanded on that knowledge during his internships. In a technical field like precast, he said having that knowledge and the skills and experience from his internships is key. Gardner agreed and sees a bright future for Xiong.
A More Sustainable Future
Since joining Jensen in 2018, Xiong has managed numerous quality control projects while also helping the location obtain its NPCA certification. Today, he works all over the plant, ensuring that all quality control issues are managed and that the plant is compliant.
Looking ahead, he’s hoping to have an even greater impact in the sustainability realm, where companies like Jensen have a real opportunity to get more heavily involved with environmentally sustainable initiatives like concrete recycling.
“We learned about concrete recycling in school, which is only going to gain in importance as materials become depleted,” said Xiong, who added that Jenson both recycles its concrete and reuses its materials. “Recycling is efficient, effective, and it helps reduce waste and costs. It’s also better for the environment and for both present and future generations.”