Idaho State University is using an NPCA Foundation grant to provide a hands-on precast concrete studio for students to experience the industry.
By Joe Frollo
Engineering students at Idaho State University are getting a hands-on education in precast concrete thanks to a joint grant from the NPCA Foundation and PCI Foundation.
The Pocatello campus is home to a precast concrete engineering design studio designed to expose students to precast concrete manufacturing and its benefits.
“The studio class is very hands on, very different than a typical lecture class,” said Dr. Mustafa Mashal, an ISU assistant professor in the ISU department of civil and environmental engineering. “We have some fantastic laboratories for concrete and large-scale testing where we can have students mixing concrete, building specimens and testing full-scale concrete sections such as reinforced concrete pipes. Having these facilities is definitely something we are proud of, and it helps the students tremendously.
“Modular construction using precast concrete should not be limited to civil infrastructure but also critical infrastructure. The potential for precast concrete in both civil and critical infrastructure is significant.”
The four-year grant that continues through May 2022 provides the funding to support an annual four-semester program, two of which are dedicated to precast and prestressed bridges and two of which are dedicated to precast culvert design, construction and seismic considerations. In addition to educating ISU civil engineering students, the school is partnered with the Idaho Transportation Department to support the proposal.
“We tailored it such that Idaho State would cover both above-ground and underground precast concrete sections,” Mustafa said.
Students also benefit from regional and national precast industry leaders, including NPCA, who supply online resources, guest speakers and in-person facility tours so the young, soon-to-be professionals can see actual precast manufacturing in person.
“Hands-on education is one of the best ways to learn,” said Bruce Savage, chair and associate professor of ISU civil and environmental engineering. “The design studio will allow us to strengthen the number of real-world projects in our curriculum. This will make our graduating engineers better prepared to the profession.”
Alongside the studio learning, Idaho State has been a regular competitor in national competitions, including earning third place in the NPCA Foundation Student Competition at The Precast Show 2020, where students were given real-world issues that precasters faced and are tasked with finding solutions.
“Having the opportunity to compete against other student groups is big for us,” Mustafa said. “That way, students get not only technical and hands-on experience, but they actually get the opportunity to present in front of a panel of judges from the precast concrete industry to build up on their communications skills.”
Many civil engineering students graduate with a minimal knowledge of precast concrete, Mustafa said. That is changing at Idaho State.
“Precast is typically the last lecture in a reinforced concrete class,” he said. “We are trying to educate the next generation of students who can go on and pursue a career in precast and serve the industry long term.”
The program is already paying dividends as some graduates have accepted jobs at precast companies and are already contributing to the work.
“Our goal is to have this class permanently up within our system,” Mustafa said. “We will continue to work with NPCA and PCI Foundations to achieve this.”
NPCA Foundation Grant Supports New Jersey Institute of Technology
The NPCA Foundation also recently approved a $60,000 grant for the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s (NJIT) Concrete Industry Management program.
Through close collaboration and input from industry partners, the School of Engineering and Applied Technology at NJIT will implement three new required courses and three new elective courses that will be integrated into the CIM program and School of Architecture.
Approximately 300 students from five majors will attend precast courses during their four-year degree programs starting in the fall. PCI Foundation also provided $60,000 for the project, ensuring students and teachers will be exposed to all areas of the precast industry.
Partnerships between the NPCA Foundation and universities such as these help build the future workforce while educating students about the benefits of precast concrete. Learn more about the Foundation by visiting: precast.org/foundation.
Joe Frollo is NPCA’s acting director of communications and managing editor of Precast Inc.