Keeping Pace With the Gulf Coast's Building Boom

UH Construction Management Department Steps Up to Meet the Growing Demand

With building permits in the Houston area at their highest level since 2008 and more than $15 billion in chemical plant expansions planned for the Gulf Coast, the Construction Management program at the University of Houston stepped up its game.

The UH System Board of Regents recently approved upgrading the College of Technology program to a full-fledged department. That was something Neil Eldin, who serves as chairman of the new department, had worked toward since he was hired in 2007 to run the Construction Management Program.

The time is right, Eldin said.

“Residential (construction) is going up big-time,” he said. “Commercial is going up big-time. And industrial is going up.”

The department already offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and the new designation won’t change that. But Eldin said it reaffirms the University’s commitment to the program and strengthens its ability to work with industry.

It also will help in attracting students, faculty and research funding, he said.

The program already has grown dramatically. It now has more than 500 students, including about 60 graduate students. Eldin said it had about 150 students, including fewer than 10 graduate students, when he was recruited.

Construction management has been around as an academic discipline for less than 40 years, spun out of civil engineering technology, with elements of business, including accounting, marketing and finance, and construction science, including classes in estimating, scheduling, safety  and construction law. 

Eldin revamped the curriculum after his arrival, and several years ago began requiring all students to pass the rigorous 8-hour American Institute of Constructors’ national certification exam. Many schools require students to take the test, but only UH requires that they pass it to graduate. Nationally, the passing rate is about 50 percent.

Three years ago UH became the first program in the nation to offer a specialization in process and industrial construction management, preparing students to work for companies building industrial facilities, including the petrochemical plants and refineries going up along the Gulf Coast.

Ed Farber, a senior preparing to graduate in December, switched to the industrial track after finding a job with an energy company.

“No two projects will ever be the same, whether it’s offshore or just fracking inland,” he said. “I’ll never be bored.”

Like Farber, David Hendry started out majoring in architecture but found it wasn’t a perfect fit. He had worked as a pipefitter in his native Scotland and, while he didn’t want to do manual labor for the rest of his life, he wanted something more physical.

Construction management was the perfect target. “I like the project management side of things,” Hendry said. “Controlling it from the beginning to the end, and seeing the completion of the project.”