CULLEN COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING

University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering

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New Master's Degree in Project and Construction Management

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Amanda Strassner, public relations intern
UH engineering students Gurkan Ozgurel, Elda Galvez and Elvira Irady survey the new construction at the MD Anderson Library. Photo by Jeff Shaw.

Program To Study Management Skills From Engineering Perspective

The University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering has launched a new Master’s Degree Program in Project and Construction Management (PCM) through the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The proposed program, which began with two new classes this semester, is designed to position students to meet emerging needs in two major industries, says Cumaraswamy Vipulandandan, chairman of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“We are focusing on two industries here,” Vipulandandan says. “We are trying to cover the construction industry, which is huge. But at the same time we are focusing on the petrochemical industry. In putting together this program we focused on pulling together a variety of options so students can choose their own focus.”

The PCM program was born of an understanding that many engineers currently working in the industry are ready to assume managerial positions. Vipulandandan comments, “At first, these engineers want to get a firm hold of technical skills. But with time they want to climb up the ladder.

“This is an ideal opportunity to study managerial skills from an engineering perspective. We already have a business school offering an MBA degree, but a lot of engineers are more comfortable in an engineering environment.”

The 30-hour program is structured around three core courses in “Project Evaluation and Economics,” “Human Resource Management,” and “Contracts and Construction Law.” After this foundation, each student must select three project management and three construction engineering courses.

Finally, a candidate for the PCM degree will either take a seminar course or participate in an internship. Vipulandandan explains the need for this requirement: “Speakers from outside the university will give special seminars and students will be required to write reports analyzing the presentation. It will hone both their writing and listening skills, especially as related to a current topic. We really want to emphasize report writing because that is so important for an engineer.”

The PCM Masters program is being marketed to two specific groups of people. “First, there are engineers who are already in the field and are almost ready to become managers,” Vipulandandan says. “They will be working on a number of projects and will need to learn to manage their time and various resources. But secondly, we are offering some of our young engineering graduates the opportunity to finish their master’s degree immediately after their undergraduate engineering studies so they can immediately move into a job market with both degrees. We are also looking into an accelerated curriculum.”

Vipulandandan is particularly focused on how this new program will fill a vacancy and meet the specific needs of Houston’s engineering community. “The industry is really becoming international and many companies have told us that they are short of managers who are trained with an international understanding. Security and safety have suddenly become focuses also. Every course has been structured to include a flavor of environmental significance. Managers have to be aware of their environment. They have to be sensitive to the effects of their work on the environment.”

A unique facet of the program is that the classes will be taught by what Vipulandandan terms “highly experienced individuals from the industry.”

He explains that, “We are utilizing resources from the industry and delivering our own input back into it. We have an advisory board committee that consists of major figures in the Houston industry, so major players in the city have collectively come up with this program. They are focused on what is needed for the engineering community right here in Houston. One strength of this program,” Vipulandandan insists, “is that it is not static, it is evolving. We work with and listen to our contacts to see what is needed in the industry. Then we find a way to get it to them.”

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