Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) trades make up a significant portion of a construction project’s budget, and the scope of MEPs continues to grow in complexity and size as we move through the 21st century. Depending on the type of project, the scope of the MEP can represent more than a third of a project’s overall budget. With this in mind, along with feedback from our industry partners, the Construction Management Program at Ferris State University has found it necessary to increase the amount of MEP content taught in our construction technology programs and management.
After a thorough review of the curriculum, two new courses combining both lectures and practical work have been added to the curriculum to reflect the importance of 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, as well as testing and commissioning. servicing these systems. We also discuss some design considerations, and in typical Ferris tradition, the highlight of both courses are the hands-on labs. Throughout the semester, these labs combine course material with hands-on exercises that really bring the lessons home for students. Visualizations, installation techniques, and code considerations enhance learning in labs.
An effective construction manager can work fluently between a design engineer or architect and a tradesperson in the field, and these two new MEP classes give students hands-on experience working from both perspectives. During the last three weeks of the semester, students can see their hard work pay off in a final project where they will define, bid, plan and install electrical and mechanical systems in a townhouse built throughout the semester in their framework class (another great example of Ferris’ highly interactive labs). Each class must coordinate not only with the other teams in its class, but also between the disciplines of the different classes. Even though these projects (see slideshow) take place during the stressful end of the semester, they end up being the favorite activity of students in both courses.
Courtesy of Ferris State University
The 2018/2019 academic year was the first year that these two new courses were offered and student feedback was immediately positive. Both courses are taken in the second year of the program, allowing students to build on the basics they learned in their first year. The most consistent comments from students are that they like the way the labs allow them to experience first hand what is discussed in the classes.
In addition to the two new courses at the sophomore level, one of the upper-level electives that students have the opportunity to take is Electrical and Process Plant Construction. This course has been in the Ferris curriculum for some time and was the first of its kind in the United States, but has been revised to better reflect the higher level of students’ incoming MEP knowledge due to the addition of the MEP course second year. Students have the opportunity to build on what they have learned in 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) assessment, plant planning and logistics. large project sites and the commissioning of large industrial systems.
Last year we saw our first graduates who took these courses enter the construction industry. Here are some comments from two of these students about how a higher level of focus on MEP systems in their courses has helped them in the field.
Jay Janutol, a fall 2021 graduate and currently employed at Hensel Phelps, said, “In 2019, I had taken the electrical and mechanical courses offered at Ferris State University. I enjoyed the electricity course so much that I offered to help students in subsequent semesters to help them better understand the subject. To have this experience to see it visually on blueprints and then build it in our program’s hands-on lab has been monumental to my education and career. How beneficial it was to no longer look at blueprints filled with black lines with random numbers and words! Additionally, I have developed a higher level of understanding of the placement and installation of MEP systems.
“With the Power Plant course, I began to see how energy is generated on a larger scale. Field trips to live sites saw how each individual element contributed to the overall system. Steam and from coal to natural gas and hydroelectricity, I took what I learned through the Ferris State construction program and applied it to real-world applications.
“A month after graduating, I started my job with confidence because I was already exposed to real projects. I used to think it was common knowledge, that every student “must have learned”, but I was quickly proven wrong. Now I find myself in the workplace explaining the concepts I learned to other industry professionals. Understanding MEP crafts and their equipment allowed me to visualize potential problems while gaining respect for these crafts since I invested time in learning what they do. All of this helps me become a more effective and efficient construction manager.
Andrew Skowronksi, who graduated in the spring of 2021 and is currently employed at Harris, said: “The great advantage that MEP courses have given me has given me a broader perspective of the disciplines that exist in the industry of building. Most people think of high-rise buildings and roads when they think of construction, and overlook factories, mills, substations, manufacturing, indoor controlled agricultural facilities for food production, generation/ energy reuse and data storage projects. Most of these buildings are not architectural feats, but primarily core and shell facilities to house complex, highly integrated MEP systems.
“Courses such as Power and Process Plant Construction highlight how MEP-heavy industry, including commercial projects, is. MEP-focused courses teach components, practical applications, real-world implementation, and systems understanding, from residential to large-scale infrastructure. This gives students an understanding and knowledge of functionality, and an awareness of cross-scoping links between MEP trades, while giving Ferris students like me an edge normally not learned unless pursuing an engineering concentration.
These additions and revisions to our curriculum not only improve our students’ ability to tackle one of the most challenging aspects of a construction project, but they also give our students a competitive edge to enter the job market. These courses give graduates of the Ferris Construction Management Program the tools they need to succeed in the construction industry. There aren’t many construction management programs that put as much emphasis on MEP trades, let alone do it the Ferris way, with hands-on, experiential learning.
—Brian Bejcek, PEI ([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 as well as courses in Construction Economics and Electrical 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 worked as an engineer and project manager in the power generation industry prior to his teaching career.