Building the future: how Parkland’s construction education is what we need

“The instructional house we built inside the Construction Education Alliance lab acts as an instructional sandbox, providing a creative workspace for myriad construction skill development opportunities.”
(All photos by Nate Carsten)

Construction doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and patience to learn each component and the relationship shared. Parkland, and its industry-focused curriculum, is the perfect education for anyone with any experience, approved by industry leaders.

In Illinois, there are two distinct seasons with many sub-seasons sprinkled sporadically. Knock on wood, the season of winter is over, revealing the cracks of the season to come, road construction. Currently, I-74 is undergoing its next phase of transformation, built by the workers of the Illinois Department of Transportation, some of which built their education at Parkland College. They were able to learn the trade and network due to the experience of Todd Horton, construction management program director.

Todd Horton, graduate from UIUC, veteran Air Force civil engineer, former Illinois Department of Transportation engineer, current educator, and more, his knowledge of the industry is more than implied. From Horton’s experience, he has developed a philosophy where Parkland College is the vehicle for creating outstanding workers that will build upon and advance the industry that has supported him and will support them. Starting Parkland in 1998, he has weathered recessions and housing bubbles in the economy, structuring Parkland’s construction around curricula to equip students with a long-range view, ready for anything.

The curriculum offered by Parkland is an associate degree in construction management and certificates for a stronger start in basic construction skills. As stated by the program directory, “The Construction Management Program prepares students to enter the construction industry in technical, managerial, and supervisory roles in three major areas: residential and light commercial building construction, heavy commercial building construction, and civil construction (roads, bridges, utilities). Entry-level employment is generally in the areas of project management, field inspection, material testing, cost estimating, computer-aided drafting, and surveying. Whether a student is a rookie training to earn their boots, or a journeyman looking to transition into a managerial setting, Parkland with its state-of-the-art programs is the perfect setting.

One new addition to aid students, driven by Horton has been their “sandbox.” Sandbox is a figurative term and as Horton puts it, “The instructional house we built inside the Construction Education Alliance lab acts as an instructional sandbox, providing a creative workspace for myriad construction skill development opportunities.”

Upon first glance, it looks like it could evolve into a cute living arrangement, larger than a studio. The purpose of this workspace is to create a living, 3D project for students to learn about the systems of residential construction. System is the keyword here, being composed of interacting components. Knowledge and the ability to oversee the synergy of these aspects is how Parkland creates strong construction managers. In all aspects of construction, whether in housing, on the road, or high on steel beams, making sure all the systems link up together successfully is the key to sustainable structures, saving everyone money in the end.

The instructional sandbox allows students of any background and experiences the opportunity to put their skills to the test. For example, while learning the tactics of roofing, after students get done with their projects and are confident in their work, the instructors put it to the test by releasing the hose, generating real-time results for immediate growth.

More than roofing, students carpenter frames, install wiring, fit pipes, and organize air conditioning, all in one semester. Especially in building science, hands-on learning like this is second to none.

Before the sandbox, students’ education was private to the elements. During the winter they would build 8×12 garden sheds with garage doors. While building sheds is an excellent tool for learning, this created a philosophy of job accomplishment over craftsmanship. They were too focused on building solid-quality sheds, in a certain amount of time, that they were missing the aspect of learning from multiple levels of quality; like learning to play one Mozart piece beautifully without learning how to read and write music. This is why Todd Horton made it a priority for this to be built.

If working with your hands and earning a stable job sounds like a wonderful education, you’d share that thought with our local unions. Parkland College works directly with Champaign area unions in training journeymen, who have completed their apprenticeship education– with classes that prepare them for managerial roles. The construction trade technology program acknowledges the level of training by each union and gives them credit towards a degree while adding classes about computer-aided drafting, cost estimating, contract administration, and human resources. Parkland has connections to almost all facets of the industry, and will set up its students for a career after graduation.

Education is what you make of it, and Parkland and its instructors take pride in being able to help you mold a bright future. Whether your interests are aviation, journalism, engineering, acting, or good ol’ fashioned construction, Parkland has a path to follow into any industry you want.

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