Photo courtesy McNeese State University

Students at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., are getting hands-on experience with precast concrete in part thanks to NPCA and the NPCA Foundation.

In November, the NPCA Foundation and NPCA awarded nearly $50,000 in grant money to McNeese State to support a precast concrete-specific learning lab within the engineering department. NPCA matched that grant in December.

The learning lab allows students to develop first-hand experience with engineering and construction projects where precast concrete is the primary building material. Also as part of the program, McNeese State students will have the opportunity to interact with local NPCA members, who will serve as mentors and instructors.

“The creation of a precast studio at McNeese University will have a substantial impact on the university as well as the geographic area of the country,” McNeese State Associate Professor of Engineering Dr. Ahmed Abdel-Mohti said.

According to Abdel-Mohti, 50% of McNeese State engineering graduates enter the petrochemical field, and of those, between 30% and 40% remain in the Gulf South region.

“To arm the students with the precast knowledge they need during their educational tenure ensures that the petrochemical industry will benefit from them being able to hit the ground running when they enter the precast manufacturing environment.”

The development of the learning lab at McNeese State marks the fifth university to receive an NPCA Foundation and NPCA grant to support such a project. NPCA Foundation also works alongside the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Cal State University-Chico, Kansas State University and Idaho State University to advance opportunities for students who one day may join the precast concrete industry.

As part of the curriculum, the McNeese State lab will house a multi-year project in which students are immersed into real-world projects that include instructional time on precast concrete and how it compares with alternative building materials. Instruction also will focus on design criteria of precast culverts, which are essential in drainage systems throughout southwest Louisiana because of potential extreme flash flooding conditions.

Before this lab, McNeese State did not include precast concrete as an integrated subject for engineering and construction students. The lab program will enable McNeese State engineering to saturate the student experience with precast plant tours, industry speakers, real-life design experiences, industry events and more, which will create a comfort and familiarity with precast for the students as they take their places as future professional members in the building industry.

Led by Abdel-Mohti and Professor Ted Thompson, the program will provide both guidance toward and assessment of a foundational knowledge for precast concrete. Abdel-Mohti and Thompson combine for more than 45 years of education and experience in the construction industry. A third faculty member, Dr. Dimitrios Dermisis, brings more than 15 years of experience in topics related to hydraulic performance of structures and stormwater analysis.

The NPCA Foundation and NPCA awarded the McNeese State University grant in conjunction with a PCI Foundation grant.

Joe Frollo is the NPCA director of communications and public affairs.