The Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) trades make up a significant portion of a construction project’s budget, and MEP scope continues to grow in complexity and size as we get further into the 21st century. Depending on the type of project, the MEP scope can account for upwards of a third of an overall project’s budget. With that in mind, along with feedback from our industry partners, the Construction Management Program at Ferris State University saw a need to increase the amount of MEP content that was being taught in our construction technology and management degree programs.
After an in-depth curriculum review, two new courses that combine both lecture and lab components were added to the program to address the importance of the MEP trades; Electrical Construction Practices and Mechanical Construction Practices. Students have the opportunity to learn about mechanical and electrical systems, major types of materials and equipment, construction documents, installation techniques, relevant codes, and the testing and commissioning of these systems. We also discuss some design considerations, and in typical Ferris tradition, the highlight of the two courses are the hands-on labs. Throughout the semester these labs tie the lecture materials to hands-on exercises that really bring the lessons home for the students. Visualizations, installation techniques, and code considerations enhance the learning in the labs.
An effective construction manager can work fluently between a design engineer or architect and a tradesperson out in the field, and these two new MEP classes provide students with practical experience working from both of these perspectives. In the final three weeks of the semester students get to see their hard work pay off in a final project where they will scope, bid, plan, and install electrical and mechanical systems in a townhouse that is built throughout the semester in their framing class (another great example of the highly interactive labs at Ferris). Each class has to coordinate not only with the other teams within their class, but between disciplines in the different classes as well. Even though these projects (see slideshow) take place during the stressful end of the semester, they end up being the students’ favorite activity of the two courses.
The 2018/2019 academic year was the first year these two new courses were offered and feedback from students was immediately positive. Both courses are taken during the sophomore year in the program, allowing students to build on the basics they learn in their first year. The most consistent feedback from students is that they love the way the labs let them experience firsthand what is being discussed in the lectures.
In addition to the two new courses at the sophomore level, one of the senior level elective courses students have the option to take is Power and Process Plant Construction. This course has been part of the curriculum at Ferris for quite a while, and was the first of its kind in the U.S., but it has been revised to better reflect the higher level of incoming MEP knowledge of the students due to the addition of the sophomore MEP courses. Students get the opportunity to build on what they have learned in the lower-level courses and apply those lessons to heavy industrial construction. Topics covered include power generation and transmission systems, process plant systems, process piping and P&ID (piping and instrumentation diagram) evaluation, large project site planning and logistics, and commissioning of large industrial systems.
Last year, we saw our first graduates who have taken these courses enter the construction industry. Here is some feedback from two of those students regarding how a higher level of focus on MEP systems in their coursework has helped them in the field.
Jay Janutol, who graduated in Fall 2021 and is currently employed with Hensel Phelps, said: “In 2019, I had taken the Electrical and Mechanical courses offered at Ferris State University. I enjoyed the electrical class so much that I offered my assistance to students in later semesters to help them better understand the material. Having that experience to see it visually on plans and then construct it in our program’s practice lab was monumental to my education and career. How beneficial it was to no longer look at plans full of black lines with random numbers and words! Additionally, I developed a higher level of understanding to placement and installation of the MEP systems.
“With the Power Plant course, I began to see how energy is generated on a larger scale. Field trips to live sites gave the ability to see how each individual element contributed to the overall system. From steam and coal to natural gas and hydroelectric, I took what I learned through the Ferris State Construction Program and applied it to real applications.
“A month after my graduation, I started my employment with confidence because I was already exposed to real projects. Before, I thought that this was common knowledge, which every college student ‘had to have learned,’ but I was quickly proven wrong. Now, I find myself in the workplace breaking down the concepts I learned to other industry professionals. Understanding the MEP trades and their equipment allowed me to visualize potential issues while also earning the respect of those trades since I invested the time to learn what they do. This all assists in me becoming a more effective and efficient construction manager.”
Andrew Skowronski, who graduated in Spring 2021 and is currently employed with Harris, said: “The large advantage that taking the MEP courses gave me was gaining a broader perspective of disciplines that exist within the construction industry. Most people think of high-rise buildings and roadways when thinking of construction, and overlook plants, mills, substations, manufacturing, controlled indoor agricultural facilities for food production, energy generation/ reuse, and data storage projects. Most of these buildings are not architectural feats, but predominantly core and shell facilities to house highly integrated complex MEP systems.
“Courses such as Power and Process Plant Construction highlight how much of the industry, including commercial projects, are MEP heavy. The MEP focused courses teach about components, practical applications, real world implementation, and understanding of systems from residential to large-scale infrastructure. This provides students with an understanding and knowledge of functionality, and an awareness of intersecting scope seams between MEP trades, while giving Ferris students like me an edge normally not learned unless pursuing an engineering focus.”
These additions and revisions to our curriculum not only improve our students’ ability to tackle one of the more difficult aspects of a construction project, but they also give our students a competitive advantage entering the workforce. These courses give graduates from the Ferris Construction Management Program the tools they need to be successful in the construction industry. There aren’t many construction management programs that put this much emphasis on the MEP trades, and even fewer still that do it the Ferris way—with hands-on, experiential learning.
—Brian Bejcek, PE ([email protected]) is an assistant professor in the Construction Management Program at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. He currently teaches the MEP courses offered at Ferris along with courses in Construction Economics, and Power and Process Plant Construction. His background includes a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, both from Michigan Technological University, and working as an engineer and project manager in the power generation industry prior to his teaching career.