SAVANNAH, Ga. – A few hard-charging Savannah District professionals looking to rattle business as usual enrolled in Auburn University’s Construction Management Program, a degree-awarding program promoted to mend information and communication gaps between construction and contracting specialists.
Since 2009, more than 60 contracting and construction specialists here have enrolled in the program that blends practical and professional construction education principles for working professionals. The program focuses on holistic communities of practice for students who need to understand interdisciplinary concepts in dynamic team environments, according to the university’s website.
Students undergo a hybrid of classroom and online courses, and must obtain three certificates and pass a capstone course before receiving their Masters of Building Science with an emphasis in Construction Management.
Contracting and Construction Division leadership opened the program to personnel in contracting, construction and project management offices to synergize efforts of staff who must work in concert to drive district projects. Better intercommunication prevents stalls in collaborative environments where industry-specific terminology can convolute processes, said Paige Brosch, chief of the Savannah District’s Contracting Division.
A mixture of technical and strategic courses exposes students to fundamentals outside their occupation and prepares students to work in cross-functional teams. Courses work to minimize frustrations caused by language that often gets lost in translation, said Whittni Hiscox, an Auburn program student and contract specialist with the supplies and services team.
“When you have a team that speaks two different languages without a proper translator it can cause a lot of communication issues,” she said. “I realized that if I could understand basic concepts then I could help word the technical input so we could decrease the number of document revisions, communication gaps and frustration.”
Academics and industry executives who’ve led Corps projects and projects of national significance, such as Philadelphia’s One Liberty Place, gift students with proven success stories, said Mark Hiscox, another Auburn student and contracting specialist on the environmental remediation team.
Initially, business degrees armed the pair with management fundamentals but it didn’t equip them with competencies outside of their functional paradigm. Since contracting officers work jointly with other office staff, the program opens a wider lens to project management concepts, private industry practices and best practices at other Corps districts. This loosens constraints of routine contracting work, they said.
Courses also develop soft skills needed to resolve conflicts and work harmoniously across the aisle, they said.
“There is very little of what we do that doesn’t require a lot of thought,” Whittni Hiscox said. “When you work a subjective environment with many varying information inputs, you really have to learn all of their languages and become the translator.”
After completing their certificate courses in August 2015, the couple married three months later, pushing their start of the capstone course to this summer. Fortune will strike twice when 2016 ends with another major life event: graduation.
But beyond the prestige of an advanced degree awaits the practical appeal of bridging gaps and aligning work processes.
“The Auburn program has helped me to learn the language of the construction industry,” Whittni Hiscox said. “It has helped me to become a credible and trusted source by our technical folks, all of which helps the team work more efficiently.”
The Corps offers several educational and broadening opportunities through education reimbursement, certificate programs, professional and leadership development, mentoring programs, temporary duty rotations and deployments.
For those who seek out these developmental opportunities, business as usual can mean working smarter, not harder.