When the Virginia Tech Myers-Lawson School of Construction was founded in 2006, several industry concerns were top of mind.
Among other priorities, the school was charged with growing the talent pipeline to meet an unfilled demand for highly skilled construction professionals and with creating a collaborative ecosystem within which industry and academia could discover and implement innovative technologies, approaches, and efficiencies.
Over 15 years later, those priorities remain unchanged and, in fact, have become even more pressing. Now, Virginia Tech is planning to further facilitate progress in these areas through its recent approval of a full transfer of Myers-Lawson into the College of Engineering.
The move, recently approved by the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia, not only streamlines administrative processes, but will also better support research and instructional partnerships across construction and engineering disciplines; offer students additional opportunities to pursue transdisciplinary research experiences; and open new doors to industry internships, co-ops, and collaborative projects focused on some of construction’s most challenging problems.
“As we welcome Myers-Lawson into the College of Engineering, we have a great opportunity to build upon the school’s strong history of bridging the gap between academia and industry to move the discipline forward,” said Julia M. Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “Given emerging industry focus areas like prefabrication, robotics, additive manufacturing, energy production, and carbon emission reduction, the college is poised to both contribute to and benefit from increased alignment with construction research and instruction. This growing alignment between education and research across our disciplines is a core component of the college’s strategic plan.”
Previously shared between the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and the College of Engineering, Myers-Lawson is one of only three schools of construction in the United States that offer both engineering and non-engineering construction degrees.
Its programs include undergraduate and graduate degrees in building construction, an undergraduate degree in construction engineering and management, and a doctoral degree in environmental design and planning. Additionally, the school partners closely with College of Engineering on graduate programs in civil engineering and with Pamplin College of Business for its undergraduate real estate program. Myers-Lawson also administers an interdisciplinary doctoral program known as BioBuild, which focuses on the planning and creation of bio-inspired buildings and communities.
Brian Kleiner, Myers-Lawson school director and the Ralph H. Bogle Jr. Professor in Industrial and Systems Engineering, sees the school’s move as a chance to mobilize both engineering disciplines and construction to better support developments in manufacturing and construction 4.0. These concepts are aligned with industry 4.0 and seek to employ human-centered automation, advanced technologies, and new systems to improve industry processes and production.
“We’re looking at areas where we’d like to grow and see great possibilities in closer association with our engineering collaborators,” said Kleiner. “Smart construction, new materials, modifications in civil infrastructure, and the integration of human-centered automation and technology across all construction sectors – this is where the industry is headed. It’s starting to mature from an innovation standpoint, and as we make progress, we’ll need closer connections to those engineering sectors.”
These sentiments are echoed by industry leaders and Myers-Lawson alumni alike, many of whom are seeking out the research and development testbeds offered by universities like Virginia Tech to spur advances in the discipline.
“As a building construction alumnus and someone in industry who has long hired graduates of Virginia Tech’s program, I’m very pleased to see Myers-Lawson move into the College of Engineering,” said Preston White ’63, founder and CEO of Century Concrete and member of Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors.
“The construction industry, perhaps now more than ever, is moving in a direction that increasingly seeks to leverage engineering disciplines and expertise,” said White, who also serves on the school’s executive committee. “Although we’ve always collaborated with engineers, and Myers-Lawson has had a strong connection to engineering since its founding, we see these areas of overlap as becoming more relevant to the future of our work and the talent pipeline. We also think collaboration with the School of Architecture as a crossover is important as we move forward.”
For an industry that’s booming, some might wonder why the discipline appears to be pushing so hard for disruption. But construction is no stranger to deep-seated challenges, said Kleiner. Rising costs, labor and supply chain shortages, and issues with a historically homogenous workforce are only exacerbated by broader economic factors such as rising inflation and exploding demand. And construction has been slow to change or adopt new methods, with firms often prioritizing immediate financial concerns over long-term organizational innovation because much of the industry is made up of small to mid-sized companies.
“This move for Myers-Lawson is coming at the right time,” said Kleiner, “for both our programs and where the industry wants to go.”
Upon transfer into the College of Engineering, Myers-Lawson will retain its school title but function much like the college’s 12 other departments, with degree programs and requirements remaining unchanged. Although their degrees will be administered through the college, building construction students will not receive engineering degrees, nor will first-year building construction students be admitted into the general engineering program. These students will follow their established coursework and sequences for progress toward degree completion.
A long-standing program, building construction degrees have been offered at Virginia Tech since 1947, and when combined with graduates from other Myers-Lawson programs, the College of Engineering looks to welcome over 2,000 alumni into the college upon the transfer’s approval.