University of Houston senior Nicole Rawlins was sitting in her office at work alone when she read an email that brought news of a lifetime.
Rawlins had been “crossing her fingers” about her performance on the American Institute of Constructors’ (AIC) national certification exam, which she must pass to graduate in December from the construction management program in UH’s College of Technology.
A total of 1,013 students across the country had taken the same test, which consisted of 300 questions and a written assignment and took eight hours to complete. The national passing rate hovers around 50 percent.
This spring, there was one best score. It was Rawlins’.
“I was completely stunned – and thrilled,” Rawlins said. “I would have been proud just to pass. Apparently, I’ve learned a lot in this program!”
While most accredited construction management programs require their students to take the AIC certification exam as part of their quality assessment programs, the UH program goes further by requiring its students to pass the exam to graduate.
That requirement is unique to the rigorous UH program, which has more than 500 students, including about 60 graduate students. For years, the construction management program has boasted 100 percent placement of its students, whose starting salaries range between $50,000-$70,000. The top students generally receive multiple offers before they graduate.
“To stand tall among the top CM programs in the nation, we decided to make passing the AIC national certification exam a mandatory requirement for graduation. So far, no other program has taken such a daring move,” said professor Neil Eldin, the construction management program’s director. “In other words, we are telling all employers that the education and technical skills of every one of our students have been certified by a national third party. We made this decision to show the quality of our students and our curriculum.
“This year, Nicole has proven that not only do we have quality students, we have the best! Certainly, she has pushed the UH name towards the top of the list of giant programs,” Eldin said.
There is a strong demand in the growing construction industry for skilled graduates who can integrate construction science, engineering and business.
UH’s construction management program provides graduates with the knowledge and skills necessary to join the construction industry. The fields of study include construction methods, structural systems, contract administration, specifications, planning, estimating, scheduling, and evaluating project performance. The four-year program is accredited by the American Council for Construction Education (ACCE).
Eldin said the CM program benefits from being located in Houston, which is home to such a large number of top oil companies, international general contractors and quality specialty contractors.
“Upon arriving to Houston (in July 2007), I contacted the industry and teamed up with about 50 companies to develop the CM program we have today,” he said. “Every semester, we involve about 20 highly ranked professionals to teach our courses. This brings major employers and real-life projects to our classrooms. Our students work for these companies usually in the last two to three years while completing the program. This positions our students ahead of their competition since they graduate with two to three years of professional experience already.”
UH’s construction management program consists of two tracks, a commercial construction segment and one geared for the oil and gas industry.
As Eldin noted, the UH program benefits strongly from internships, which also are required for graduation. Nicole had an internship at Balfour Beatty Construction, and her work there as an intern earned her a full-time job. The company told her she’s the first intern it has ever hired before graduating.
“We have some really great teachers in this program, including people from the industry,” Rawlins said. “It’s not an academically stagnant program.”
Rawlins took a rather circuitous route through architecture and engineering, before finding the right home in construction management. She also has a keen interest in sustainable development and renewable energy.
“I knew when I started school that I wanted to be involved with building in some form or fashion. I’m excited to be a part of this generation where green building practices are increasingly common and valued. This transitional period is a great time for someone with my interests to enter the construction industry,” she said.
She is in the commercial track and wants to continue working her way up in the field to become a project manager.
“My dream would be to eventually advance into an executive leadership role or even someday earn ownership within in a company, but there is a long road ahead between here and there.”
Her interest in construction and design dates back to her childhood.
“My dad and I were always building things. We always had some remodeling project going on,” Rawlins said. “I love to see things transformed. A pile of wood becomes something useful, old becomes new.”
She also has a major ongoing remodeling project of her own as well – her home, which she bought several years ago.
“It’s my largest recycling effort to date – breathing new life into something that most people would say should have been discarded.
It’s been a slow process, but it is very rewarding to finally see it coming together and to know how much of the work I did myself. I’ve certainly learned a lot!”