Our Behind the Build blog series is about sharing the experiences and stories from those working in construction. But for a lot of individuals working in the industry, their experience in construction starts way before they ever set foot on a jobsite or inside a trailer. For many, it first starts in a classroom.
Wei Wu, Associate Professor at California State University, Fresno, is someone who is nurturing the next generation of construction professionals in the classroom. In this week’s construction interview series, we speak with Wei on how he equips future builders for their careers. Read on to learn more.
What drew you to the construction industry?
My family is involved in the construction industry selling building materials. My wife’s family is also in the industry, so it’s truly part of my life from a personal perspective. Also, I grew up in China right at the start of our economic boom–it seemed like everywhere you went, something was being constructed. It was amazing and inspiring to see all of those changes happening before my eyes.
Besides that, all my degrees are in construction. When I was finishing my Ph.D., I had the choice between going into the industry or starting teach. I chose to pursue a career in academia because it felt like an opportunity to pass back on the wealth of knowledge I acquired throughout my studies.
From your experience, how does Fresno State differ from other universities?
When I first joined Fresno State in 2013, I was impressed by the commitment of the institution to teaching excellence. The school is very supportive of advancing faculty members, in terms of supporting them in workshops and professional development.
We also have a great deal of support within the classroom, especially when it comes to trying out new ideas and introducing technology. We have something called the Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE). Their sole mission is to support faculty members in terms of teaching. I can just email them with an idea or a request, and they’ll work to make it happen. I cannot think of anything they would say no to or “it’s not possible.” They always work with you to find a solution, and it’s very encouraging.
You’ve been teaching with PlanGrid for several years now. How were you first introduced to the technology?
I was first introduced to PlanGrid by a colleague. I teach a class called construction graphics–it’s about the fundamentals of construction plans and modeling. My students typically have no background or experience in the construction industry. The whole principle of the class is laying the foundation for students, so they don’t have any questions or problems when they look at construction plans.
My colleague told me that PlanGrid might be a good tool to use and we had Tracy Young and Ralph Gootee, the company’s co-founders in to do a lunch and learn for our students at the time. They gave a presentation on the idea behind the product and why it mattered to the construction industry. I was thrilled to see that they were willing to drive down to meet our students. It felt like there was a community of support.
The product also seemed like a natural fit, especially since it helped us get rid of the physical sets of plans in our classroom. The ease and convenience of being able to share a set of plans with students and to demonstrate something on a screen are essential in today’s modern classrooms. If you use paper plans, logistically there’s not enough space, especially if you have a class of 30-40 students. But using something like PlanGrid, you can easily host 40 students with tablets.
It’s not only sustainable, but it’s also plain practical.
Why do you think it’s essential to teach students technology like PlanGrid?
As I mentioned, my students come in with minimal to no knowledge about construction. It’s essential we lay the foundation for them. With technology like PlanGrid, it makes it easy to introduce sheets and how they make sense to the scope of work. We discuss how sheets logically connect to one another. When a project has 600+ documents, being able to walk through these relationships with technology is powerful.
PlanGrid helps create these dynamic links between sheets and work, thus facilitating the understanding process for students. Also, with an electronic format, everyone can be on the same page at the same time.
Do you teach any other construction technologies?
My specialty is in building information modeling (BIM). We teach a lot with Autodesk Revit mainly. As far as I know, we are one of the first institutions teaching with HoloLens in the field operations lab. We also teach quite a bit Sketchup.
Pretty much every single program you can imagine, we will try to use it in our classrooms.
As much as we love PlanGrid, we want to expose our students to every sort of technology they might encounter in their careers.
What advice do you give your students as the next generation of construction professionals?
Technology is a tool that makes tasks easier.
Often, there’s a misconception with younger generations. A lot of times, they are labeled as digital natives, but that’s not always the case. We have students who are afraid of technology or have this natural inclination to push back. I always tell my students to remember it’s a tool above all else. It will make you more productive and successful in your future career.